Talavera is a type of majolica earthenware fashioned into dishes, tiles, and decorative objects. It traces its origins back to the Moors, who introduced it into Spain in the 9th century, setting up workshops in the town of Talavera. From there, artisans took the practice to Puebla in the 16th century -- hence the name.

It's no exaggeration to say that Talavera is the face of Puebla. Its widespread use as facing for buildings is the most distinctive characteristic of the local architecture. You see it almost anywhere you look. And you'll definitely see it anywhere you shop. But the best and most expensive Talavera is produced by a dozen factories in Puebla and Cholula, all members of an association that sets standards and certifies manufacturers. To be officially certified, a workshop must use only the traditional methods and ingredients (no commercial ceramic mix or glazes); practically everything must be done by hand. There's no restriction on artistic taste, just the methods for making Talavera. So there's a good bit of variety from one workshop to another. The genuine article is not cheap, so you should look around in the showrooms until you learn how to discern the knockoffs from the real stuff and find a style you prefer over others.

If you're interested in watching people make Talavera, consider a workshop tour. Uriarte Talavera, Calle 4 Poniente 911 (tel. 222/232-1598), charges 50 pesos for its tour. The factory has an impressive facade made completely of Talavera. And inside you'll see some great pieces displayed. There's one factory in the Parián area -- Talavera Armando, at Calle 6 Norte 408 (tel. 222/232-6468). If enough people are around, they'll get a free tour. One factory, Talavera Celia (tel. 222/242-3663), has a shop/restaurant downtown, at Calle 5 Oriente 608, that serves meals on its own Talavera. Inquire there about touring the workshop, which isn't too far from downtown. Talavera de la Luz specializes in large maps and panoramic views rendered in Talavera tiles. It has shown some of its largest pieces in museums in the United States. Unfortunately, it doesn't open very much.

The Mercado de Artesanías (El Parián) is a pedestrian-only, open-air shopping area just east of Calle 6 Norte between calles 2 and 6 Oriente. You'll see rows of neat brick shops selling inexpensive crafts and souvenirs. The shops are open daily from 10am to 8pm. Bargain to get a good price. While you're in this area, you can take a look at the Teatro Principal.

For antiques browsing, go to Callejón de los Sapos (Alley of the Frogs), about 3 blocks southeast of the zócalo near Calle 4 Sur and Calle 7 Oriente. Wander in and out; there's good stuff, large and small. Shops are generally open daily from 10am to 2pm and 4 to 6pm. On Saturday mornings, there's a flea market in the little square. If you're there in the afternoon, stop by La Pasita, across Calle 5 from the Plaza de los Sapos, to taste homemade cordials and browse through the owner's humorous collection of Mexicana. The owner keeps flexible hours and only opens if the mood strikes him. Start with a pasita, then work your way up to a China Poblana -- a layered cordial of red, white, and green liqueurs.

If you're out walking around Puebla, you might amble over to a short stretch of Calle 6 Oriente between 4 Norte and 5 de Mayo. It has a few picturesque candy shops selling famous local sweets, such as camotes (sweets made from yams in various flavors), which are very popular with Mexicans but are not to my taste. There's also a Victorian-era shopping mall made of wrought iron, which has been fixed up nicely: Ex-Mercado La Victoria, which is behind Santo Domingo.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.