Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and the Great Pyramid of Cholula

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora  de los Remedios, Cholula
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora
de los Remedios, Cholula

The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is located in Cholula, Mexico. I visited this area in September, 2013, as a part of a trip to Puebla. To get to Cholula, I took a bus from downtown Puebla. The cost was only $7.5 pesos, about $.60 US.

Legend has it that Cholula has 365 churches, one for each day. This fact was reported to me by a cab driver in Puebla, who mentioned it during a conversation we had while driving in from the airport. In reality, there are around 37 churches in Cholula. I had intended to see many of them, as there were quite a few good looking ones, but the one that I just had to see was the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.

Construction began on the church in 1574, and it was consecrated in 1629. The church is built atop a large pre-hispanic pyramid known as the Great Pyramid of Cholula. Construction of the pyramid dates back to the third century BC, and like many other pyramids in Mexico, new layers were added over the top of old, gradually increasing the size of the structure. At its zenith, it was six overlapping pyramids of nearly 1500 feet on each side of the base, and 220 feet tall. The total volume of the pyramid makes it even larger than the Great Pyramid in Giza, though that pyramid is much taller.

By the time the Spaniards arrived, the pyramid had been in decline for centuries. It’s unclear if they knew they were building a church on top of an ancient pyramid, or if they simply thought it was a hill.

Tunnels inside the Great Pyramid of Cholula
Tunnels inside the Great Pyramid of Cholula

Excavations under the pyramid began in the 1800s. There are now roughly 8 kilomers of tunnels inside the pryamid, a small subset of which can be toured for $46 pesos. The entry fee also allows you walk the exterior sides of the pyramid that have been excavated.

Through sheer luck (or bad timing, depending on how you look at it), the day I chose to visit the church happened to be the festival day for the Señora de los Remedios. This meant that the church was packed, people were setting off fireworks, and a generally very festive day was underway. I took some nice photos, but the huge amount of people around made it difficult to get a good feel for the church. I also avoided the tour underneath, as there was a long line.

A few days later, I decided to head back to Cholula and try again. I had wanted to get a photo of the church with the active volcano Popocatépetl behind it. During my first trip, I saw that the angles were wrong, plus, I realized I’d have to find a place with some height. Using Google Earth, I drew a line from the volcano through the church, and looked to see where a good photo might be taken. I saw a pedestrian bridge above the highway that looked like a possibility.

I jumped off the bus at a large roundabout just past the bridge, then walked back and climbed up. The volcano was somewhat visible, and the morning light on the church was beautiful. Unfortunately, the angle still wasn’t quite right. I got a nice phote of the two together, but the church is not superimposed in front of the volcano as I had hoped. This is the photo I ended up with:

 Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and Popocatepetl
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and Popocatepetl

This time in Cholula, I was able to tour underneath the pyramid.  The tunnels are right about the same height as me (6 feet).  I had to bend slightly to make sure I wouldn’t hit my head.  About a half mile of tunnels are open, and you can walk through a see a few things along the way.

Exit of tunnels inside the Great Pyramid of Cholula
Exit of tunnels inside the Great Pyramid of Cholula

At the end of the tunnels, you come out a small door on the other side. It’s locked at night, hopefully no one has gotten stuck in there.

Once you exit the tunnels, you can walk around some of the exterior ruins that have been excavated. There are signs with descriptions.  What’s there isn’t as elaborate a many other ruins I’ve seen, but it’s still very interesting.

 

Here are some images of the ruins:

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If I understood the signs correctly, the structure in the last picture above was re-constructed by archaeologists at some point or another, using common concrete. It did appear to be much newer than anything else.

Here are a few more pictures of the church from different views. As always, click any photo to see larger versions.

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