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Tonala is a city and its surrounding municipality that is part of the Greater Guadalajara metropolitan area. The city had a 2005 census population of 374,258 and the municipality had a population of 408,729 and an area of 119.58 km2 (46.17 sq mi). The municipality lies adjacent to the east side of Guadalajara. The Guadalajara metropolitan area, which includes eight municipalities, had a population of 4,095,853, the second-largest urban concentration in Mexico after Mexico City. The city and the municipality both rank fourth in the state of Jalisco in population, after Guadalajara, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque.

On two days a week (Thursdays and Sundays) there is a giant street market covering several of the main streets, with numerous vendors of ceramics, pottery, glass objects and all kinds of handcrafted items and novelties. Most of the art found on Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara was manufactured here.

Due to the clay soil in the area, pottery or alfareria has been a traditional occupation for centuries.

A native group, the Tonaltecas, lived on this area surrounding the Ixtepete or Cerro de la Reina ("The Queen's Hill"). They spoke Nahuatl mixed with their own indigenous vocabulary. Indeed, the word "Tonala" comes from the Nahuatl Tonallin, meaning "place from which the sun emerges".

The noted Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante is reported to have his primary studio in the Tonala area, with his main gallery being located in nearby Tlaquepaque.