Tlaxcala is a small town in the southeastern state of the same name, Tlaxcala, Mexico. It is located in the south-central area of the state, and is 120 km from Mexico City. What’s extraordinary about this little place is that with a population of 15,777 (as of 2005), it is the smallest town in the state of Tlaxcala, but it’s also the state’s capital and the seat of a municipality (population 83,748).
More interesting than that is the Templo de San Francisco, a church said to be the first Christian church ever in North America, is located in this tiny city. The first Catholic chapel is located right next to it. Native people initially would not go inside of a building to worship, making the chapel the earliest formal place of worship. The place just got a lot bigger, didn’t it?
The city was initially settled by native people (the Tlaxcalans, who drove out the Chichimecas), but it was “founded” in 1520, by that nastikins Cortez, with whom the natives fought off their arch nemeses, the Aztecs. Priests linked to Cortez were thought to have received the first Christian baptisms on the continent in the Templo de San Francisco. Also in the Templo de San Francisco, four powerful kings of local descent were baptized and given Christian names. One unique feature of the church is that the bell tower is not on the church. It is attached to the church and situated at the end of a raised pathway.
If that wasn’t amazing enough, the first bullring on the continent is located just below the Templo de San Francisco, and it’s still operational. The outdoor chapel is located just below the church’s front yard and next to the bullring.
Tlaxcala is rich in history, and while not considered a tourist town, perhaps someday it will be. Nearby there are parks that are good for mountain biking and camping, as well as cliffs that are excellent rappelling and rock climbing areas. There is much to learn about and see in this unique little place.
Attractions and Things To Do in Tlaxcala
Palacio Municipal – the main spacious zócalo (plaza), is often the showcase for many cultural events, including colorful, costumed dancers and native music.
Palacio del Gobierno (Government Palace) – a structurally impressive building, with a Plateresque façade, stone carved arches, and a baroque balcony. Inside the building, visitors will find an amazing series of murals by Tlaxcalan artist Desiderio Hernandez Xochitiotzin depicting Tlaxcala's history.
Templo de San Francisco – a 16th century church said to be the first Christian church ever in North America. Priests linked to Cortez were thought to have received the first Christian baptisms on the continent in this church.
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion – an impressive cathedral with a renaissance-style façade and a mudejar-style wood ceiling. The beautiful baroque main altar dates back to the 17th century.
Santuario de la Virgen de Ocotlán – one of Mexico's most spectacular churches is an important pilgrimage site due to the belief that the Virgin Mary appeared here in 1541. A statue of the Virgin Mary stands on the main altar in recognition of the apparition. During the 18th century, native Francisco Miguel spent 25 years painting the altarpieces and the chapel beside the main altar.
Museo de Arte de Tlaxcala – a spectacular contemporary art museum has an amazing display of the early paintings of the famous artist Frida Kahlo. The main museum on the zócalo has a good permanent collection of modern Mexican art and rotating local art display. A second branch of the museum has equally good exhibits.
Museo Vivo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares – a popular art museum displaying Tlaxcalan village life. Over 3,000 artifacts are exhibited here, which local artisans will guide visitors through. Weaving and pulque-making demonstrations are often available.
Parque Nacional La Malinche (Malinche National Park) – the city’s main ecological reserve. The park has a coniferous forest covering most of its 45,711 hectares (112,906 acres). Also located here is the Matlacoeyatl Volcano, or La Malinche, which is the 6th highest peak in Mexico at 4,461 meters (14,721 feet) above sea level. Nature hikes, mountain biking, and camping are popular sports here. A number of rocks and cliffs in the foothills of the volcano are excellent for climbing and rappelling, as well.