PUEBLA-The City Built By Angels
By Dave Good
Founded in 1531, the city of Puebla emerged from the chaos caused by the Conquest of the New World. Legend has it that “tall, beautiful, lightly-dressed heavenly beings with long hair and transparent gaze began to trace the city layout.” The City of Angels was the result of their efforts and the precise harmony of its dimensions surprises visitors to this day.
On a more human note, the Conquest captured the imagination of not only the soldiers of fortune and the clergy, but those vagabond ne’er-do-wells, who out of sheer boredom with life on the continent wanted a life of adventure and lawlessness. This proved to be quite a problem after the relatively easy victories fought with pistols and pestilence. With no enemies left after the first two years, these adventurers started robbing and harassing anyone they chanced to meet on the road between Vera Cruz and Mexico City.
They became such a problem that the King of Spain issued an order that rather than lock them up (there were no jails at the time), a new experiment in city planning would be undertaken--a city built by and for these vagabonds who would be given lands and hopefully would turn their lives towards honest pursuits. As Garcia Cantu, an historian, has said: “This was an attempt at imposing civilization; an attempt to control those driven by greed, the search for a way to reduce the tributes paid by the Indians living in the area in exchange for their help in building the city, as well as a way of promoting European economic, political and religious systems among them.”
And so many craftsmen from Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Northern Africa came to teach their crafts and skills to the local evangelized Indian people. They built magnificent churches and buildings which would become models for many other cities. European fruit trees and cereals, iron tools and animal-drawn machines were introduced. The indigenous irrigation system was exploited, wells and water wheels were installed and Puebla became the most important agricultural center in New Spain.
Also in 1531, the first mill was founded, and by 1538, Puebla was producing textiles such as silk, linen and wool. The famous glazed tiles were produced, marble was mined, along with glass and objects made from iron, bronze and wood were produced. Puebla became the foremost industrial and commercial center in the country.
The various Indian tribes settled around the city adding their customs and flavor and inter-marrying with their conquerors. So, thus setting the stage for the most unique city experiment in the New World--a city built with the cooperation of the conquered peoples who over time would completely integrate with them so that a new society would emerge: a society that would lead the nation into new freedom; independence from foreign occupation (5th of May), and independence from dictatorship (the 1910 revolution was planned here in Puebla).
Before the creation of Puebla, the area was very well known because of the religious center at Cholula, just 7 km. from the present site of the city. Long before Chichén Itzá and Teotihuacan, Cholula was the spiritual center of the Aztec world. Artifacts have been found of every Indian civilization from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and west to the Pacific. Five hundred years before Christ, work was started on what would become the largest pyramid in the world. It was only after this center died out that work began on the more recent pyramids of Palenque and Uzmal.
Puebla is a city of quiet, unassuming grace. From its beautiful plaza surrounded by Baroque architecture and Arabic spires to its more than 365 cathedral-like churches, Porfirian houses with arched doorways, spherical windows and laced cornices that adorn every street for two kilometers around the plaza. Because angels seemingly played such a significant part in its origin, they are everywhere smiling, watching and guarding all facets of daily life for Poblanos.
Matching the Baroque flair for hyperbole in plasterwork, Friar Juan de Villa Sanchez once said of the city: “There is surely no nation or people who have not heard of the fame of Puebla of the Angels, applauded in annals, celebrated in stories, shown on maps, copied in paintings; even the pens of the most diligent writers are engaged in extolling its virtues and the greatness of its name.”