Puebla is one of the most important cities in Mexico, with a history that dates back to 1531. Today it is the fourth largest city in the country, growing in size and importance over time. The historic city center is home to over 70 churches and 1000 colonial era buildings. It has been recognized by UNESCO because of its cultural importance to Mexico. Puebla had many incredible things to keep us busy during our visit, including the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, which is the oldest library in the Americas.
It turns out that Biblioteca Palafoxiana was not your average library. The first 5000 books were donated to the Colegio de San Juan in 1646 by the Bishop of Puebla (Juan de Palafox y Mendoza). This is also where the library gets it’s name. It would end up being the oldest collection of books in the Americas. This was just another one of the amazing things we did while visiting Puebla, Mexico.
This legacy grew with the addition of another 5000 books a century later by Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuero. This extensive library now contains over 45,000 books, maps and manuscripts from the 15th-20th centuries.
Building the Biblioteca Palafoxiana
Eventually the collection of books needed a permanent home. The library was built on the second floor of the Colegio, which was finished in 1773. The new library was visually stunning. Originally it contained two levels of bookshelves, built along the walls of the 43-meter long room. A third level of shelves were eventually added in the 19th Century to hold the growing collection.
These magnificent bookshelves were made out of fine woods such as ayacahuite, coloyote and cedar. At the end of the room is a retablo of the Madonna of Trapani by Nino Pisano, surrounded by ornate gold carvings.
The library was originally meant to be a religious seminary. However, the collection was not limited to knowledge about God or the Church. It contained many books on law, medicine, architecture and history. As a result, anyone who could read was allowed to enter.
Today, it is still possible for clergy and scholars to request access to specific books. While most of the books are off limits to casual visitors, they had a few maps and books on display. It only takes 30-40 minutes to tour the library. For us, it was time well spent. There was something special about the Biblioteca Palafoxiana.
We enjoyed Puebla, thanks to an abundance of historic buildings and incredible food. Puebla had certainly lived up to our expectations, and we will certainly return someday soon. If you get the chance to visit this underrated city, make sure you visit the library.