Talavera is a type of maiolica earthenware, distinguished by its white base glaze. Authentic Talavera pottery only comes from the city of Puebla and the communities of Atlixco, Cholula and Tecali, as the clays needed and the history of this craft are both centered there. All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times. This glaze must craze, be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white.

There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments. The painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath. An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.

The design of the pieces is highly regulated by tradition. The paint ends up slightly raised over the base. In the early days, only a cobalt blue was used, as this was the most expensive pigment, making it highly sought after not only for prestige but also because it ensured the quality of the entire piece.  Only natural clays are used, rather than chemically treated and dyed clays and the handcrafting process takes three to four months. The process is risky because a piece can break at any point. This makes Talavera three times more costly than other types of pottery.Because of this, Talavera manufacturers have been under pressure from imitations, commonly from China, and similar ceramics from other parts of Mexico, especially Guanajuato. Guanajuato state petitioned the federal government for the right to share the Talavera demonimation with Puebla, but, since 1997, this has been denied and glazed ceramics from other parts of Mexico are called Maiolica or Mayolica.

Today, only pieces made by designated areas and from workshops that have been certified are permitted to call their work “Talavera.” Certification is issued by the Consejo Regulador de la Talavera, a special regulatory body. Only nine workshops have so far been certified: Uriarte Talavera, Talavera La Reyna, Talavera Armando, Talavera Celia, Talavera Santa Catarina, Talavera de la Nueva España, Talavera de la Luz, Talavera de las Americas, and Talavera Virglio Perez. Each of these needs to pass a twice-yearly inspection of the manufacturing processes. Pieces are subject to sixteen laboratory tests with internationally certified labs. In addition, there is a test done by the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Puebla to ensure that the glaze does not have lead content of more than 2.5 parts per million or cadmium content of more than 0.25 parts per million, as many of the pieces are used to serve food. Only pieces from workshops that meet the standards are authorized to have the signature of the potter, the logo of the workshop and the special hologram that certifies the piece’s authenticity.

Pottery from Puebla Mexico

Authentic Talavera Pottery - Fruit BowlDifferent Mexican pottery shows the cultural, geographic and historic range of the country of Mexico. Pottery in Mesoamerica is produced about 4500 years ago in the pre-classic age. At that time, the clay pieces that were located reveal the cultural background of the country of Mexico. It takes advantage of the Spanish approach of glazing and heating as well as Indian form of creating and including designs and colours. In time, the handmade ceramics were changed by bulk create and cheaper items with the technical progression. Various of the Mexican pottery designs have changed the domestic ware in ornamental items. Most likely the most profitable and most displayed mexican talavera pottery which one can come across nowadays is definitely the Oaxacan Black clay.

Talavera Snack Tray handmade in Pueblo Mexico

Talavera pottery is from Puebla, Mexico. It is a type of majolica pottery that is characterized by a milky-white glaze. Real Talavera pottery arrives only from Puebla along with the close by communities such as Cholula, Atlixco and Tecali because of the natural clay quality found in these locations. Almost all of these potteries were decorated in blue. However, colours like black, green, yellow, mauve and orange are used. The golden age of Talavera pottery was initially since the yr 1650 to 1750. The tradition that established there is often known as Talavera Poblana to separate it out of the Talavera pottery in Spain. It is a mix of Spanish, Italian and indigenous ceramic methods.

Talavera from Puebla

Authentic Talavera from MexicoWhen we speak about Puebla we inevitably think about the imposing volcanoes that guard her, the Popocateptl and Iztaccíhuatl , the culinary delicacies that were created in this state, such as Mole Poblano, its baroque architecture, and of course, the ceramic of Talavera, that adorns practically every building, every patio, every square and even kitchens.

Talavera is a type of majolica earthenware, a white and glazed type of ceramic.  Although the Spaniards introduced this type of pottery, ironically the term Talaverais used much more in Mexico than in Talavera de la Reina, Spain.

In fact, Talavera is the oldest tin-glazed ceramic in America and it is still being manufactured with the same techniques as in the 16th Century.

Puebla not only was the second most important city in Mexico, after the country’s capital Mexico City, it was the most important earthenware center of the Nueva España, which was the name of Mexico in Colonial times.

The production of tiles and ceramic ware in Puebla, started almost immediately the city was established in 1531.  Thanks to the abundance of quality clay in the region and to the splendor of the arts at that time in Puebla, in a short time the  Talavera Poblana achieved such quality and beauty that it was soon exported to the rest of the continent.

There are several theories about its origin in Mexico, but the most accepted explanation is that Spanish monks from the Santo Domingo monastery in Puebla, sent for craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina to teach the indigenous people of the region how to work the clay so they could create pieces similar to the ones produced in Spain.  They wanted to decorate with tiles and religious sculptures their monastery and church.

The indigenous people of Mexico were very accomplished potters and already had a very long tradition producing earthenware.  But they did not know how to use the potters wheel or tin-glaze their pottery, which is one of the main characteristics of the majolica ceramic.

Other versions state that the Dominican friars were the ones that knew how to produce this type of ceramic and that they were the ones that taught the Indians how to do it.

The truth is there are documents that record the presence of several craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina in Puebla during the 16th Century, which established their workshops to produce tiles and ceramic wares. It was a very profitable business since there were so many churches and monasteries being built.

In time, a potter’s gild was formed and Ordinances were laid down, that all of the potters that wished to produce Talavera had to follow. This was done so that the quality of the ceramics called Talavera was uniform and that this earthenware had a distinctive style and excellence.

Some of the rules established by the Ordinances were:

  • The color blue was to be used on the finest ceramic. This was so because the mineral pigments needed to produce this color were very expensive.  The customer could then easily distinguish the quality of fine ceramic from one of lesser quality.

  • To avoid falsifications each master potter had to sign or mark his products.

How to Treat Authentic Talavera

Talavera Pottery Plates CareHow to properly treat your new authentic Talavera –  Since Talavera is fired at very high temperatures it makes it a very durable product.  We recommend treating your Talavera as you would treat any other fine china product.

If you decide to place it in the dishwasher, use care to ensure that it does not rattle against other pieces during the washing process. It is microwave safe, but use care as it will absorb heat.  The high firing temperatures also make it oven safe.  We recommend placing the piece in the oven when the oven is started and let it warm up with the oven.  With proper care, your Talavera piece will last for years to come!

Most of the Talavera pottery offered by La Fuente Imports, including all plates, platters, and place settings, is made by hand in Puebla, Mexico, and is 100% lead-free as well as microwave, oven, and dishwasher safe. The detail is outstanding, and due to the kiln’s high firing temperature all our Talavera dishware is also crack and chip resistant.

The Origins of Mexican Talavera Pottery

Talavera plates made in Pueblo, MexicoFrom the time of the Olmecs, between 1200 BC and 600 AD, pottery has been a central part of Mexican life.  Their use of clay, knowledge of primitive firing and coloring techniques, as well as designs was passed down to other cultures that followed.  The Olmecs are considered by many as the mother culture of Mesoamerican civilizations.

Talavera de la Reina, a Spanish village, has long been influential in the world’s knowledge of fine ceramics.  When the Muslims conquered North Africa and moved into Europe, their tin-glazed ceramics, known as Majolica, came to Spain.  Majolica was developed in the Middle East but gained cultural diversity through influences from the Chinese, Italians, Moors and Spanish cultures.  Spanish craftsmen learned and further developed this craft and, in the 16th century, introduced it to Mexico.  The term Talavera is used to describe faithful reproductions of the pottery that is made in Talavera de la Reina, Spain.

When the Spanish introduced their stylized pottery to their recently established colony in Mexico, the local artisans blended these new techniques with their established practices to creat the famous Talavera pottery of Mexico.  It is believed that the first workshop was established in the city of Puebla around 1600 AD.  Puebla became the home of authentic Mexican Talavera and is where the first potter’s guilds were formed to establish standards and regulations for the production of Talavera.

Authentic Mexican Talavera

Talavera Ginger Jar by Maximo HuertaSince the 16th century, Mexican craftsmen have been producing Talavera pottery.  This art form has evolved from ancient cultures and influenced the production of pottery in Mexico resulting in the exquisite Talavera pottery that is available today.  True, certified Talavera pottery is produced in the city of Puebla, in the state of Puebla, Mexico however, high-quality, modern Talavera pottery is also available from factories in other Mexican districts such as Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato.

Age-old techniques have been passed down from generation to generation by master craftsmen.  These techniques produce unique pieces that are truly works of art.  Vibrant colors and delicate details are trademarks of Talavera pottery that give it the characteristic color and brilliance known only to Talavera ware.

Talavera is a type of majolica earthenware that is fired at extremely high temperatures producing a very durable product.  Artisans are not limited to the production of tiles and vases.  You will find beautiful pieces to suit your taste in plates, jars, pots, religious figures, animals and more!

Talavera Pottery As Home Decorating Accent

Authentic Talavera Jases VasesThis year get creative and choose gifts to delight everyone on your list and remember Talavera for a unique piece of art. You will find something unique for your friends and family that they will appreciate you for it, because Talavera will change the look in any room of their home.

Talavera decorative pieces will enhance any room of any home lacking in liveliness. Talavera pottery comes in an inexhaustible amount of shapes, colors and forms making it one of the most versatile workings of art. There is such a wide variety to choose from that while you are determining what to buy, you will most likely have a harder time deciding which pieces to keep for yourself and which ones to give as gifts.

Talavera is furthermore a brilliant option for home remodeling projects; you can transform your kitchen with Talavera tiles , murals, floor tiles, cooking ware, wall plates, and dishes .

If you are thinking about your bathroom, there are talavera sinks mirrors, and bathroom accessories available.

You also can convert the look and feel of your dining space, living-room, bedroom, and floors, there is no end to the many ways you can fix up and change the look in your household.

After you get a piece of Talavera , you are in possession of a part of fine art that has a rich history and a tradition going back to the 16Th century after it was formerly introduced by the Conquistadors to the Nueva Espana.

The indigenous people who learned the old techniques added their own themes, colors and shapes, which gave birth to the pottery that we see today.

When you look at a Talavera vase , jar, urn, platter, plate, bath accessories, and tiles you will notice the influence of the different cultures; Arab, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican that where involved in the evolution of this world-renowned art that had a great influence throughout the newly discover world.

Due to its functionality and durability in everyday use, Talavera pottery became popular in the 19th century and in many cases a Talavera piece would become a legacy within a family, passing from one generation to the next one. Today, this can also be true; you can start a little legacy for you, or someone that you know. In our day, this will also hold true; you can start a minor legacy of your own, or someone that you know.

Authentic Talavera Pottery

authentic talavera plateTalavera is a type of maiolica earthenware, distinguished by its white base glaze. Authentic Talavera pottery only comes from the city of Puebla and the communities of Atlixco, Cholula and Tecali, as the clays needed and the history of this craft are both centered there. All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times. This glaze must craze, be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white. There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments. The painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath. An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.

The design of the pieces is highly regulated by tradition. The paint ends up slightly raised over the base. In the early days, only a cobalt blue was used, as this was the most expensive pigment, making it highly sought after not only for prestige but also because it ensured the quality of the entire piece. Only natural clays are used, rather than chemically treated and dyed clays and the handcrafting process takes three to four months. The process is risky because a piece can break at any point. This makes Talavera three times more costly than other types of pottery.  Because of this, Talavera manufacturers have been under pressure from imitations, commonly from China,[8]and similar ceramics from other parts of Mexico, especially Guanajuato. Guanajuato state petitioned the federal government for the right to share the Talavera demonimation with Puebla, but, since 1997, this has been denied and glazed ceramics from other parts of Mexico are called Maiolica or Mayolica.

Today, only pieces made by designated areas and from workshops that have been certified are permitted to call their work “Talavera.”

Puebla’s Talavera Earthenware Pottery

Talavera Plates from MexicoWorks of art good enough to eat off – that’s the essence of Talavera pottery.

The Mexican pottery, which has been around for 400 years and is primarily made in Puebla City, is an artistic and practical achievement. Vases, cups, plates, serving bowls, and tiles, called azulejos, are some of the items I saw being made in Uriate Talavera factory where the highly regarded, expensive pottery is hand made. The factory, which was established in 1824, is one of Puebla city’s most renowned because it is one of the few authentic Talavera workshops left today. Talavera is one of Mexico’s most unique items, making it a worthwhile gift to bring home.

Puebla City is located sixty miles southeast of Mexico City, making it a convenient hop, skip, and a jump away – and a convenient escape – from Mexico City, which is the world’s largest. Puebla City, which is also the capital of the same name state, is the country’s fourth largest urban center. Approximately two million people live there. The residents, who call themselves poblanos, live in the most European of all of Mexico’s colonial cities. The Spanish established and planned the 16th century city from the  ground up, rather than building it within an existing indigenous community. They did this because the location was on the main route between Mexico City and Veracruz, which was at that time the most important port in the country. Puebla City is situated at a height of 7,000 feet above sea level and is  blessed with a temperate, year round climate.

While the Spanish may have first introduced the highly decorative art from their home country when they settled in the heart of Mexico, diverse artistic styles, including Moorish and Oriental cultural nuances transformed the colonizer’s craft to what it is today. The Moorish influence of cobalt blue patterns on white appeared on Mexican pottery around the late 15th century, while the Oriental styles of animals and floral designs were first seen in the mid-16th century. To be authentic, Talavera pottery (named after a town in Spain) must be hand-painted in intricate designs using natural dyes derived from minerals. The colors used include blue, black, yellow, green and reddish pink.   During a ninety-minute tour of the factory, we learned just how long it takes to make these detailed works of art. And while the pottery is expensive to purchase, even at the point of production, our tour helped us understand why. The factory usually offers free tours that are shorter, but our group of writers was interested in learning minute details about how the pottery is made.

First, black or white clay is soaked for several days in water to soften it, said Angela Garcia, the cheerful tour guide who patiently answered all our questions. Both colors give the same end pink result, she said, but only clays from four areas, Puebla, Cholula, Tecalli and Amococ, are used in making Talavera pottery. A sieve is used to strain the clay, which breaks it into fine, uniform particles that will give the earthenware a smoother finish. The clay is then left in vats for several days to separate out the water.

Next, a potter molds the clay, sometimes by hand, and at other times with a potter’s wheel, after which he or she rubs it with a damp sponge to create a fine finish. The molded clay is left in the sun to dry for up to five days, depending on its size. Once the pottery is thoroughly dry, it is baked for about eight hours at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in a handmade brick oven. We observed employees banging the pottery with a steel stick to check if there were any tiny hidden cracks. “The pottery should sound like a bell” if there  are no cracks, Garcia said. The fire-worked clay is then dipped for about three seconds in a lead-free yellow-like glaze which turns to white once dry, and “any tiny imperfections are reglazed,” Garcia said. “The fingerprint made while lifting the item out of the glaze is also filed down,” she added.

The individual creative paintwork which is done on each piece by the factory’s fifteen painters comes next. The designs are transferred to the ceramic by the use of carbon paper on a paper stencil, and the resulting dot pattern is then used as a guide for the handpainted designs. The length of time it takes to finish painting a ceramic piece depends on how intricate the design is and the size of each piece, the guide explained. When we visited, artists were painting huge urns, small serving dishes and 18 tiles that comprised the picture of the Virgin Mary.

When dry, the paint’s mineral colors change composition. Orange changes to yellow, black to green, brown to red, and light blue becomes dark blue, Garcia said. The earthenware objects are once again oven-fired, resulting in a hard, brightly colored surface. The pieces are now ready to be sold, either in the factory’s on-site shop or abroad, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, and Peru. About 70 pieces a day are made by the approximately 200 employees, a sign of just how labor intensive the creative process is.

Jose Luis Hernandez from the local tourist office scraped the surface of a tile to demonstrate the high quality workmanship. The tile showed no signs of damage, a proof of its high quality, said the official who’d accompanied the writing group to the factory. “Although the prices are high, the pottery is  genuine” and not all local shops are selling the real thing, he emphasized.

Besides a visit to the pottery factory, the city’s compact, historic downtown is famous for the many 17th and 18th century colonial buildings that are ornately decorated with Talavera tiles. With more than seventy churches and one thousand colonial buildings in the central area alone, visitors feel like they are walking around an open air museum.

An outstanding use of 16th century Talavera tile is found in the former kitchen in the Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa de Lima. The building is now the state artisan museum, or Museo de Artesanias del Estado. The kitchen’s huge, multi-domed interior is covered from top to bottom with the famous tilework.  However, what may be even more interesting for the locals is what’s said to have been invented there – Puebla’s renowned mole sauce. The dark colored sauce, which can contain up to one hundred ingredients, is supposed to have been invented by the Dominican nuns as a surprise for their demanding gourmet bishop. Mole sauces, which have many different flavors, generally contain fresh and smoked chile, pepper, peanuts, almonds, tomato, onion, spices, and, of course, chocolate, of which the best known is made with a bitter variety. Food supplies in the kitchen were cleverly kept cool by a double wall that had water running in between.

The Museum of Santa Monica is another worthwhile stop. Generations of nuns secretly hid there when the Reform Laws of 1857 closed church-owned buildings after Benito Juarez separated church and state. To survive, the nuns sold candies and embroideries during almost eight decades of clandestine activity.

The museum houses religious art and items of self-flagellation, including whips and crowns of thorns in some of the former nuns’ penance rooms.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is considered one of Mexico’s best proportioned cathedrals, is the second largest in the country, and also has the highest towers. Built between 1575 and 1649, the main altar has sixteen marble columns, and the large floor and several statues are also made of the same  material. Gold leaf decoration is used in some of the many chapels, and a huge bronze statue of the Virgin Mary weighs 300 tons. When I visited, a priest was hearing a penitent’s confession without the usual private door separating them.

The Amparo Museum has an excellent collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial artifacts displayed in two linked colonial buildings whose architecture was influenced by indigenous designs. A glass case displayed an unidentified animal and perhaps a man about to be sacrificed in Veracruz some 2,500 years  ago, and there were also Olmec masks, a feature of Olmec civilization three millennia ago. The museum, which opened in 1991, was the first in the world to have a computerized touch screen that answers visitors’ questions about museum artifacts.

The House of the Puppets, near the main square, is the city’s most comical structure. The building’s exaggerated statues are a caricature of the city fathers who took the house’s owner, Agustin de Ovando y Villavicencio, to court because his building was taller than theirs. He added the statues, which represented various officials, to get his revenge on the small-minded officials.

The Barrio del Artista, on the pedestrian-only Calle 8 Norte, is a lovely place to wander around while looking at artists at work in their open studios. Their paintings can also be purchased. The imposing principal theater, or Teatro Principal, is nearby.

Other unusual but-worth-visiting-places, which I didn’t have time to see, include the African Safari Park, reputed to be one of the best places in Mexico for African wildlife. The park is located about ten miles southeast of the city. I also didn’t have time to visit the house of culture, or Casa de la Cultura, a classic brick and tile Puebla building that occupies a block facing the cathedral. Formerly the bishop’s palace, it is now home to the tourist and other government offices. The Palafox Library upstairs has thousands of valuable books, including the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle which has more the 2,000 engravings.

Puebla is noted for its cuisine, and many consider it to be the best in the country. It’s believed that the Santa Monica nuns (cooking rivals to the mole-making Dominican nuns) invented chiles en nogada, a seasonal dish that’s available from July to September. It’s said to have been created in 1821 to  honor Agustin de Iturbide, the first ruler after Mexico’s independence. To make chiles en nogada, a poblano chilli is filled with ground meats and fruits. It is then covered with a sauce of chopped walnuts and cream, and topped with red pomegranate seeds. The overall effect is colors representing the green, white and red of the Mexican flag.

For deserts, Sweets Street, as its name implies, sells almost nothing but things-bad-for-the-teeth –  candies, including camote, a popular regional treat made from sweet potatoes and fruit, and cochinitos, which is made of bread, molasses and sugar. Famous treats from other regions like crystallized fruits, coconut candies, and bisnaga, a sweet made from cactus and sugar boiled together, are also available in the many sweet-tasting stores.

Sweets Street was a fitting ending to a city well worth a return visit.

This article is from the August 2001 – September 2001 The Mexico File newsletter. Back Issues and Subscriptions available.

Yvonne Moran is a freelance writer and a former general assignment daily reporter. Her stories have been published in The New York Times, Connecticut Post, The Advocate, Greenwich Time, Irish America Magazine and Fairfield County magazines, amongst others. She contributes travel stories to several websites and also writes for national Irish newspapers and magazines. She has been writing about travel for more than a decade. Yvonne contributed an article on Chiapas for the July 2001 issue of Mexico File. Yvonne can be reached through email at ymmoran@aol.com for comments and questions. For this article, she visited one of the Puebla’s most famous pottery factories, but discovered that the city offers a lot more besides.

Puebla’s Talavera Earthenware Pottery

MH456a - Talavera PlateWorks of art good enough to eat off – that’s the essence of Talavera pottery.

The Mexican pottery, which has been around for 400 years and is primarily made in Puebla City, is an artistic and practical achievement. Vases, cups, plates, serving bowls, and tiles, called azulejos, are some of the items I saw being made in Uriate Talavera factory where the highly regarded, expensive pottery is hand made. The factory, which was established in 1824, is one of Puebla city’s most renowned because it is one of the few authentic Talavera workshops left today. Talavera is one of Mexico’s most unique items, making it a worthwhile gift to bring home.

Puebla City is located sixty miles southeast of Mexico City, making it a convenient hop, skip, and a jump away – and a convenient escape – from Mexico City, which is the world’s largest. Puebla City, which is also the capital of the same name state, is the country’s fourth largest urban center. Approximately two million people live there. The residents, who call themselves poblanos, live in the most European of all of Mexico’s colonial cities. The Spanish established and planned the 16th century city from the  ground up, rather than building it within an existing indigenous community. They did this because the location was on the main route between Mexico City and Veracruz, which was at that time the most important port in the country. Puebla City is situated at a height of 7,000 feet above sea level and is  blessed with a temperate, year round climate.

While the Spanish may have first introduced the highly decorative art from their home country when they settled in the heart of Mexico, diverse artistic styles, including Moorish and Oriental cultural nuances transformed the colonizer’s craft to what it is today. The Moorish influence of cobalt blue patterns on white appeared on Mexican pottery around the late 15th century, while the Oriental styles of animals and floral designs were first seen in the mid-16th century. To be authentic, Talavera pottery (named after a town in Spain) must be hand-painted in intricate designs using natural dyes derived from minerals. The colors used include blue, black, yellow, green and reddish pink.   During a ninety-minute tour of the factory, we learned just how long it takes to make these detailed works of art. And while the pottery is expensive to purchase, even at the point of production, our tour helped us understand why. The factory usually offers free tours that are shorter, but our group of writers was interested in learning minute details about how the pottery is made.

First, black or white clay is soaked for several days in water to soften it, said Angela Garcia, the cheerful tour guide who patiently answered all our questions. Both colors give the same end pink result, she said, but only clays from four areas, Puebla, Cholula, Tecalli and Amococ, are used in making Talavera pottery. A sieve is used to strain the clay, which breaks it into fine, uniform particles that will give the earthenware a smoother finish. The clay is then left in vats for several days to separate out the water.

Next, a potter molds the clay, sometimes by hand, and at other times with a potter’s wheel, after which he or she rubs it with a damp sponge to create a fine finish. The molded clay is left in the sun to dry for up to five days, depending on its size. Once the pottery is thoroughly dry, it is baked for about eight hours at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in a handmade brick oven. We observed employees banging the pottery with a steel stick to check if there were any tiny hidden cracks. “The pottery should sound like a bell” if there  are no cracks, Garcia said. The fire-worked clay is then dipped for about three seconds in a lead-free yellow-like glaze which turns to white once dry, and “any tiny imperfections are reglazed,” Garcia said. “The fingerprint made while lifting the item out of the glaze is also filed down,” she added.

The individual creative paintwork which is done on each piece by the factory’s fifteen painters comes next. The designs are transferred to the ceramic by the use of carbon paper on a paper stencil, and the resulting dot pattern is then used as a guide for the handpainted designs. The length of time it takes to finish painting a ceramic piece depends on how intricate the design is and the size of each piece, the guide explained. When we visited, artists were painting huge urns, small serving dishes and 18 tiles that comprised the picture of the Virgin Mary.

When dry, the paint’s mineral colors change composition. Orange changes to yellow, black to green, brown to red, and light blue becomes dark blue, Garcia said. The earthenware objects are once again oven-fired, resulting in a hard, brightly colored surface. The pieces are now ready to be sold, either in the factory’s on-site shop or abroad, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, and Peru. About 70 pieces a day are made by the approximately 200 employees, a sign of just how labor intensive the creative process is.

Jose Luis Hernandez from the local tourist office scraped the surface of a tile to demonstrate the high quality workmanship. The tile showed no signs of damage, a proof of its high quality, said the official who’d accompanied the writing group to the factory. “Although the prices are high, the pottery is  genuine” and not all local shops are selling the real thing, he emphasized.

Besides a visit to the pottery factory, the city’s compact, historic downtown is famous for the many 17th and 18th century colonial buildings that are ornately decorated with Talavera tiles. With more than seventy churches and one thousand colonial buildings in the central area alone, visitors feel like they are walking around an open air museum.

An outstanding use of 16th century Talavera tile is found in the former kitchen in the Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa de Lima. The building is now the state artisan museum, or Museo de Artesanias del Estado. The kitchen’s huge, multi-domed interior is covered from top to bottom with the famous tilework.  However, what may be even more interesting for the locals is what’s said to have been invented there – Puebla’s renowned mole sauce. The dark colored sauce, which can contain up to one hundred ingredients, is supposed to have been invented by the Dominican nuns as a surprise for their demanding gourmet bishop. Mole sauces, which have many different flavors, generally contain fresh and smoked chile, pepper, peanuts, almonds, tomato, onion, spices, and, of course, chocolate, of which the best known is made with a bitter variety. Food supplies in the kitchen were cleverly kept cool by a double wall that had water running in between.

The Museum of Santa Monica is another worthwhile stop. Generations of nuns secretly hid there when the Reform Laws of 1857 closed church-owned buildings after Benito Juarez separated church and state. To survive, the nuns sold candies and embroideries during almost eight decades of clandestine activity.

The museum houses religious art and items of self-flagellation, including whips and crowns of thorns in some of the former nuns’ penance rooms.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is considered one of Mexico’s best proportioned cathedrals, is the second largest in the country, and also has the highest towers. Built between 1575 and 1649, the main altar has sixteen marble columns, and the large floor and several statues are also made of the same  material. Gold leaf decoration is used in some of the many chapels, and a huge bronze statue of the Virgin Mary weighs 300 tons. When I visited, a priest was hearing a penitent’s confession without the usual private door separating them.

The Amparo Museum has an excellent collection of pre-Hispanic and colonial artifacts displayed in two linked colonial buildings whose architecture was influenced by indigenous designs. A glass case displayed an unidentified animal and perhaps a man about to be sacrificed in Veracruz some 2,500 years  ago, and there were also Olmec masks, a feature of Olmec civilization three millennia ago. The museum, which opened in 1991, was the first in the world to have a computerized touch screen that answers visitors’ questions about museum artifacts.

The House of the Puppets, near the main square, is the city’s most comical structure. The building’s exaggerated statues are a caricature of the city fathers who took the house’s owner, Agustin de Ovando y Villavicencio, to court because his building was taller than theirs. He added the statues, which represented various officials, to get his revenge on the small-minded officials.

The Barrio del Artista, on the pedestrian-only Calle 8 Norte, is a lovely place to wander around while looking at artists at work in their open studios. Their paintings can also be purchased. The imposing principal theater, or Teatro Principal, is nearby.

Other unusual but-worth-visiting-places, which I didn’t have time to see, include the African Safari Park, reputed to be one of the best places in Mexico for African wildlife. The park is located about ten miles southeast of the city. I also didn’t have time to visit the house of culture, or Casa de la Cultura, a classic brick and tile Puebla building that occupies a block facing the cathedral. Formerly the bishop’s palace, it is now home to the tourist and other government offices. The Palafox Library upstairs has thousands of valuable books, including the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle which has more the 2,000 engravings.

Puebla is noted for its cuisine, and many consider it to be the best in the country. It’s believed that the Santa Monica nuns (cooking rivals to the mole-making Dominican nuns) invented chiles en nogada, a seasonal dish that’s available from July to September. It’s said to have been created in 1821 to  honor Agustin de Iturbide, the first ruler after Mexico’s independence. To make chiles en nogada, a poblano chilli is filled with ground meats and fruits. It is then covered with a sauce of chopped walnuts and cream, and topped with red pomegranate seeds. The overall effect is colors representing the green, white and red of the Mexican flag.

For deserts, Sweets Street, as its name implies, sells almost nothing but things-bad-for-the-teeth –  candies, including camote, a popular regional treat made from sweet potatoes and fruit, and cochinitos, which is made of bread, molasses and sugar. Famous treats from other regions like crystallized fruits, coconut candies, and bisnaga, a sweet made from cactus and sugar boiled together, are also available in the many sweet-tasting stores.

Sweets Street was a fitting ending to a city well worth a return visit.

This article is from the August 2001 – September 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.  
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Yvonne Moran is a freelance writer and a former general assignment daily reporter. Her stories have been published in The New York Times, Connecticut Post, The Advocate, Greenwich Time, Irish America Magazine and Fairfield County magazines, amongst others. She contributes travel stories to several websites and also writes for national Irish newspapers and magazines. She has been writing about travel for more than a decade. Yvonne contributed an article on Chiapas for the July 2001 issue of Mexico File. Yvonne can be reached through email at ymmoran@aol.com for comments and questions. For this article, she visited one of the Puebla’s most famous pottery factories, but discovered that the city offers a lot more besides.