Without a doubt, paying a visit to Biblioteca Palafoxiana (Palafoxiana Library) is one of the best things to do in Puebla. Established in 1646, it’s recognized by UNESCO as the first and oldest public library in the Americas.
Located on the second floor of Casa de la Cultura in Puebla’s historic center, just across the street from Puebla Cathedral, Biblioteca Palafoxiana currently houses a collection of over 45,000 books and manuscripts published between the 15th and 20th centuries. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful baroque library that feels very much like a time capsule right in the heart of Puebla de Zaragoza.
Thanks to its proximity to Mexico City, Puebla is a popular day trip destination from the Mexican capital. No matter how short your stay in Puebla, visiting Biblioteca Palafoxiana is something you need to do.
VISIT PUEBLA QUICK LINKS
If you’d like to book a tour in Puebla City, then we’ve compiled links to popular tours and activities here. Click on the link for a guide to some of the best Puebla Tours.
- Guided Tours: Puebla Sightseeing and Food Tours
- Day Trips: Day Trips to Puebla from Mexico City
- Cooking Classes: Puebla Cooking Classes
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- Luxury: Casona de los Sapos Hotel Boutique
- Midrange: Hotel Boutique Casareyna
- Budget: Hostal Casa De Arcos
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BIBLIOTECA PALAFOXIANA AT A GLANCE
- Biblioteca Palafoxiana was founded in 1646 after Bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza donated 5,000 of his own books to the Colegio de San Juan y San Pedro.
- In 1773, Bishop Don Francisco Fabián y Fuero ordered the construction of the Palafoxiana Library in its current location.
- The library has a collection size of over 45,000 books, manuscripts, and printed documents. It’s home to nine incunables (books printed in Europe before 1500) and eight of Mexico’s earliest books (printed in the 16th century).
- The oldest book in the library’s collection is The Nuremberg Chronicle, which was printed in Nuremberg, Germany in 1493.
- In 2005, Biblioteca Palafoxiana was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
HISTORY OF BIBLIOTECA PALAFOXIANA
Biblioteca Palafoxiana owes its name to Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, the bishop of Puebla de Zaragoza from 1639 to 1646. On 6 September 1646, he donated 5,000 of his own books to the Catholic seminary he had just founded – Colegio de San Juan y San Pedro.
A lover of books, Palafox y Mendoza donated the books under the condition that they be made available to the general public so that everyone, not just the clergy, could devote themselves to the study of liberal arts and science. In his words:
“It is very useful and convenient that there should be in this city and kingdom a public library, where all sorts of people will be able to study as they wish”.– Bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza
Over a century later, Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuero ordered the construction of the Palafoxiana Library in the historic center of Puebla City to house Palafox y Mendoza’s donation and its growing collection of books and manuscripts.
Fabián y Fuero donated his own collection, as well as the collections of bishops Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz and Francisco Pablo Vázquez. Books owned by the dean of the Francisco Irigoyen Cathedral were also added, along with volumes from Pueblan religious schools and books confiscated from the Jesuits after their expulsion in 1767.
Completed in 1773, the new Palafoxiana Library consisted of a 141 ft nave (43 meters) and two tiers of shelves under an arch vaulted ceiling. The bookshelves were crafted in the baroque style from the finest ayacahuite, cedar, and coloyote wood.
Thanks to a steady stream of donations throughout the colonial period, the library’s collection grew to over 41,000 volumes by the 19th century. Its growing collection necessitated the construction of a third tier of bookshelves.
Sadly, the added weight from this third tier of books contributed to the damage sustained by Palafoxiana Library during the earthquakes of 1999. Restoration began shortly after the earthquake and the library was reopened in 2003.
BIBLIOTECA PALAFOXIANA COLLECTION
Biblioteca Palafoxiana currently houses over 45,000 books and manuscripts published between the 15th and 20th centuries. It consists of three major collections: (1) books, (2) manuscripts, and (3) pamphlets and broadsheets dispersed across a range of subjects from canon law to languages to natural sciences and medicine.
Palafoxiana Library owns nine incunables and eight of Mexico’s oldest books, all published in the 16th century. Some of the oldest and most notable books in its collection include:
- The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
- De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1543)
- El Vocabulario by Alonso de Molina (1571)
- Doctrina cristiana by Juan de la Anunciación (1575)
- Two editions of Malleus Maleficarum (1596, 1669)
At the far wall of the library is this gold altarpiece featuring a painting of the Madonna of Trapani. It’s believed to be based on a mid-14th century sculpture by Italian artist Nino Pisano.
The religious orders of Mexico have three libraries, one each in Puebla, Morelia, and Oaxaca. Not only is Biblioteca Palafoxiana the oldest of the three, but it’s also the most intact and well-preserved.
WHO IS JUAN DE PALAFOX Y MENDOZA?
Juan de Palafox y Mendoza was a Catholic clergyman from Navarre, Spain. He served as the Bishop of Puebla de los Ángeles (former name of Puebla) from 1640 to 1655 and the interim Archbishop of Mexico from 1642 to 1643. He also held political office, serving briefly as the Viceroy of New Spain from June till November of 1642.
Palafox y Mendoza was a known patron of the arts. During his time as bishop, Puebla became the musical center of New Spain. He was also recognized for his protection of indigenous communities, refusing any method other than persuasion to convert locals to Catholicism. He was a lover of books and a firm believer in education. He was once quoted as saying:
“He who succeeds without books is in an inconsolable darkness, on a mountain without company, on a path without a crosier, in darkness without a guide.”
Palafox y Mendoza would later become involved in a major controversy with the Jesuits over ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The conflict would cost him his position as the Bishop of Puebla de los Ángeles and get him recalled to Spain.
Juan de Palafox y Mendoza died in 1659 and wasn’t beatified until 2011. His feast day is on October 6.
Photo by Diego de Borgraf, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
WHAT IS CASA DE LA CULTURA?
Biblioteca Palafoxiana is located on the second floor of Casa de la Cultura, a cultural center in the heart of Puebla’s Historic Center. It’s located directly across the street from the south side of Puebla Cathedral.
I’ve walked into this building on multiple occasions to find different events like cultural bazaars and classical music recitals being held in its inner courtyard. I suggest checking their Facebook page for a schedule of upcoming events.
Address: Av 5 Ote 5, Centro histórico de Puebla, 72000 Puebla, Puebla
Operating Hours: 10AM-5PM, Tue-Thurs / 10AM-6PM, Fri-Sun (closed Mondays)
Entrance Fee: MXN 42 (FREE on Tue and Sun)
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BIBLIOTECA PALAFOXIANA
Biblioteca Palafoxiana may be small but it’s easily one of the most fascinating museums in Puebla. Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it’s incredible to think that many of the books gracing its bookshelves are over 400-500 years old. The historical value of its collection is undeniable.
Like Puebla Cathedral, Amparo Museum, and the Rosary Chapel, Palafoxiana Library is one of the most popular destinations in Puebla. Even if you visit Puebla for just a day from Mexico City, it’s a must-visit attraction and definitely deserving of a spot on your Puebla itinerary.
Biblioteca Palafoxiana is open every day of the week except Monday. Admission is normally MXN 42 but you can enter for free on Tuesdays and Sundays.
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