Church with smoking volcano in the background copyright latinamericanstudies.cor

Sanctuary with smoking volcano in the background
copyright latinamericanstudies.org

As we bussed to Cholula from Mexico City we passed through a region where you could see a ring of volcanoes surrounding us as we rode along. In fact, one of the volcanoes (Popocatepetl) was active and spewing smoke! It is the first time I have seen volcanic activity with my own eyes.

The city of Cholula is about 2 hours outside Mexico City, and now absorbed as part of the state capital of Puebla. It is divided into 18 neighborhoods with many churches per neighborhood, but the city is most famous for its Great Pyramid and Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios Sanctuary atop.


Pyramid site (from the path to the hilltop)

We only visited the Pyramid and Sanctuary while we were in Cholula; we didn’t also visit any of its many churches. After doing a virtual tour of them later, I was sorry that we didn’t take the time.

The church built over the pyramid copyright latinamericanstudies.org

The church built over the pyramid
copyright latinamericanstudies.org

The city has a large student population associated with the Universidad de las Americas. We visited Cholula by bus from Puebla and during the trip a man with guitar got on and began to sing. After that he walked the length of the bus asking for tips. He came away empty handed and got off dejected at the next stop.

I asked Francisco how come nobody (including us) didn’t give him any money, because after all he was one of the better singers that I have heard. Also Mexicans are unfailingly generous. Francisco said that the bus was full of students (I hadn’t really noticed) and they never have any cash, and certainly not even a spare peso to give a singer. He said that the government gave students debit cards that allowed them to catch a bus to school or college and back home again. They weren’t given enough cash on the card to spend on anything but bus fare. Francisco said unsympathetically, “The man got on the wrong bus!”.

The sanctuary on the hill on top of the pyramid

The sanctuary on the hill on top of the pyramid

It is said that the city has 365 churches! In reality there are only 37 churches, although if you count the little chapels and private temples the total is 159. This gives the city a very busy calendar of religious festivals, holy rituals, regular cyclical social events, and Saints Day(s) throughout the year.

All gold inside

All gold inside

Cholula was built over a large pre-Hispanic settlement and so a large area has been designated an archeological site, however, much of the land is privately owned including the land containing the Great Pyramid. It’s base is 4 times the size of Egypt’s Pyramid of Giza and is the biggest base in the Americas. Construction and architecture used the same techniques as used in Teotihuacan.

Detail of the close up is a little fuzzy

Close up of the exquisite detail is a little fuzzy

From about 1000 years ago the pyramid began to be overgrown with vegetation as the religious focus moved away from the area. Only in 1931 did excavation start to uncover this archeological gem.

Sanctuary cupola

Sanctuary cupola

Above the pyramid on the hilltop is the sanctuary with multiple volcanoes as its backdrop, including the smoking volcano. It’s a gorgeous church with the usual high domes and beautiful gold painted ceilings. The ornateness of these churches always takes my breath away!

So did the walk up the hill to the sanctuary…!



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