By Dorothy Bell
Photography by Bill Bell
“Water That Falls In The Place Of Flight”
A Cool Summer Destination
Cholula is one of my favorite colonial cities in Mexico; especially in the summer. When the beach communities like Cancun or Cabo are so hot that your tanning lotion starts steaming, Cholula is mild and inviting. The altitude keeps the temperature down and the nightfall rain cools the evening air. Last summer we stayed for a month and at times we even slept with a few blankets to keep warm. Cholula’s charm, however, is much more than temperate weather.
The City of Cholula is situated 12 km outside of Puebla, the Capital City for the State of Puebla. It is a small colonial city know for it’s plethora of Catholic churches; many of which are built over pre-Colombian monuments by the Spaniards. The Cholula Pyramid is a prime example where the spectacular yellow Nuestra Señora de los Remedios Church is built on what appears to be a hill.
On closer examination, it is clear that the hill is a pyramid. The enormous pyramid, larger in mass than any other in the world (including those at Giza Egypt) rises up on the relatively flat landscape of the area dominating all manmade structures and buildings in the area. Only Popocatepetl, a towering active volcano, rises up along the horizon and surpasses the pyramids height.
The history of the area stretches far beyond the arrival of Cortez. Cholula was considered a major religious landmark by the pre-Hispanic populations, on par with Teotihuacan and Tula. It is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the hemisphere with a 2500 year history. Cholula was created in 1700 BC from two separate villages and became the largest center of the area. It is believed that work began on the pyramid around 1000 BC and that the city became an important religious and ceremonial center. While smaller than Teotihuacan, Cholula remained independent of the larger center and survived after the empire collapsed. The population continued to inhabit the city for centuries.
The pyramid’ construction continued as various native populations moved into the area. The Olmec-Xicallancas added to the structure when they located in the city and they greatly added to the expanse. In 1000’s and the arrival of the Toltec-Chichimecas more building took place and the centre gained more prominence. Cholula evaded the Aztec invasions and became an important trading centre. The Toltecs incorporated the worship of Quetzalcoatl into the religious beliefs and Cholula became the “Mecca” for pilgrims throughout the region. Cholula became known as the city dedicated to Quetzalcoatl.
Why the pyramid was covered with earth and overgrowth is unclear. We do know that with the arrival of the Spaniards the city was flourishing. Cortés called Cholula “the most beautiful city outside Spain.” One story has it that when the Conquistadores were approaching the city that they covered it with earth so that it would survive the impeding onslaught. Another more colorful version has the Cholulan’s inviting the Spaniards into the city in an attempt to ambush the army. The plan was discovered and Cortés retaliated by massacring the people and vowing to replace all the citys 365 pre-Hispanic temples with a church. Today atop the great pyramid overlooking the city, you can see hundreds of Catholic churches with colorful domes fulfilling Cortés revengeful promise.
Today Cholula remains a small interesting colonial city. Boasting a population of 60,000 inhabitants, Cholula is a university town, (University of the Americas) with young people congregating everywhere. The East side of the main plaza has interesting cafes and music playing daily. There is a daily market to explore.
It is an interesting town to visit. The warm spring-like temperatures make easy walks around the city and even walk up the steep driveway / walkway on top of the pyramid to the yellow Nuestra Señora de los Remedios Church. If you go in the morning you are most likely to see “Popo” with it’s white snowy glacier covered cap in the distance. Sometimes you can see a smoke plume rise as much as 8 miles high.
Explore the museum at the base and even tour the tunnels inside the pyramid itself. There are vendors near the exit that sell local colorful pottery – some of the best in Mexico – revered for its fine detail and blue decorative motifs.
Day trips to nearby Puebla, population 1 million +, are also in order. It is only 12 kms to the East and easily reached by bus or Taxi. It is considered a world treasure (registered by UNESCO) because of the beautiful colonial architecture. It is also considered the cultural capital of the area with a multitude of parks, events and galleries sprinkled liberally throughout the city.
Where to Stay
Las Americas RV and Trailer Park
Cholula’s “Las Americas Trailer Park” has good RV camping with full hookups. There are tall secure walls and a security guard 24 hours a day so you can make day trips and even an extended visit to Mexico City without worrying about the rig. Park and take the bus to Mexico City, thereby avoiding the traffic, congestion and Mexico City Police officers.