Military defeat seems to play a larger part in Puebla’s history than it does in most of Mexico – the city fell to the Americans in 1847 and to the French in 1863 – but that isn’t what’s remembered. Rather, what’s remembered and commemorated here is the greatest victory in the country’s history, at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when a force of some two thousand Mexicans defeated a French army three times its size. The French were trying to make the Austrian prince Maxamilian emperor of Mexico, but when they tried to occupy Puebla, Mexican troops based in the two forts on the Cerro de Guadalupe (the Fuerte de Loreto and the Fuerte de Guadalupe) beat them off, forcing them to withdraw back towards their base at Veracruz and putting a serious dent into French plans. To this day, Puebla commemorates May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) with a massive fiesta, and there’s a public holiday throughout the country.

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