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Merida : Capital
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
 
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Named after the Iberian city of the county of Badajoz, known at the time of the Roman as Emerita Augusta, and regarded, later, as the Spanish Roma, Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatán, was founded on January, 06, 1542 by Francisco de Montejo. His own father founded Chichén Itzá 15 years earlier but the Indians made him leave. He went back to Spain, living on a high pension and marrying a rich widow. But the second Montejo waited for the right time and launched from Campeche, the city he founded in 1540, a second invasion. Most columnist agree, his campaign was perfect, and tell how tell how 400 well motivated Spanish dominated and routed 40 000 well armed Indians assembled around the old Maya city of Tho or Tiho. This Homeric battle occurred at the very place of the actual Cathedral of Mérida. The Conquest of Yucatán started this day but took 155 years to acheve because of the hunger for freedom of the Mayas.

The cathedral of Mérida, by nightBecause of its location, Merida is a quite hot (an average of 26°C or 80°F all year long) but pleasant city, encouraging nonchalance. The nature is rich and lush, the gardens are of good size and fresh. Everything leads to the well being and makes Mérida a nice place to stay. The Mexicans called it the "white" city for its cleanliness. Actually, the city is not as clean as before but you still can enjoy the colonial heritage in downtown. Whatever the amount of time you are allowed, you have to start the visit by the Zócalo, the place of independence. It is the geographic center of the city as well as an easy meeting point because the streets are all numbered from there: the uneven numbers pointing out the east-west streets and the even numbers pointing out the north-south streets.

     Right picture: The cathedral of Mérida, by night

Allow at least one day for the visit of the city of Mérida only.


This “white” city has a plain colonial architecture. In the historic center, facing the plaza of Independence, is the Palace of Governor which was inaugurated on September 15, 1892. This neo-classical building houses several murals from the Yucatecan Fernando Castro Pacheco (1886-1966). They are regarded as being the most important ones of the state. These paintings tell the life and history of the Mayan people, since the Conquest to the Caste war. The palace is open daily from 9AM to 9PM, admission free.

The Cathedral San Ildefonso, imposing, built between 1562 and 1598, overlooks the Zócalo. Its simple and solemn façade has two towers and three porticos. There is the coat of arms of the first Mexican Empire above the statues of the apostles. This basilica type construction has three naves and twelve columns and the most ancient cupola in Mexico. Inside offers nothing special.

historic center of Mérida  The Zócalo, a 180m (5400feet) wide plaza with several time centenarian trees, is the perfect spot for resting between two visits and for getting the services of the numerous shoe shiners; it is also the best place to sit and listen to the rumors of the city before visiting it, to let oneself be overwhelmed by the first impressions and sensations from this new place. On Sunday morning, the city band plays a few musical pieces. Before the Conquest, the actual Zócalo was an important ceremonial Maya center : The temple to H-Chum-Caan stood in the middle, surrounded by other less important pyramids and temples. The Spaniards and the overzealous missionaries that followed them destroyed every one of these pagan buildings. But they kept the plan of the site and used the ruins to build their own constructions. And so, the Cathedral and most of the churches of Mérida, were edified with the stones of the ancient Mayan temples.

     
Left picture : historic center of Mérida




On the right side of the Cathedral, you can visit the Macay Museum, contemporary art museum housing permanent and temporary exhibitits of sculptures, paintings and photos (open 10AM-6PM, Wed-Mon, free entrance).

Paseo  Montejo Go and see the Palace of Montejo called Casa de Montejo : the Plateresque style facade is the work of Mayan craftsmen. Its doorway shows the coat of arms of Montejo with two armed conquistadors on each side. Each of these conquistadors stands on grimacing heads, symbol of the Conquest. Other personages and designs complete the picture. The inside nowadays houses a bank. This house, built in 1542 by the founder of the city, belonged to its descendants until 1832.

     Right picture : Paseo Montejo

North of the cathedral, in a seventeenth century house, the Museum of the City (open 9AM-8PM, Tue-Frid and 9AM-2PM, Sat-Sun, free admission) tells the history of Mérida. New location : Calle 65 between calle 56 & 56A.      

Stroll up the calle 60 to admire this street lined with small plazas and gardens with many musicians (parque Hidalgo and parque de la Madre). On Hidalgo plaza, the Church of the Third Order (Tercer Orden), is set on a land that belonged to the Jesuits until 1767. It is the favorite of the High Society of Mérida for weddings. It houses a wonderful plateresque style altar made of golden wood.

North of the Zócalo (corner of Calle 60, between calle 57 & 59), you can also visit the Peón Contreras Theater (free admission, open 9AM-6PM, Tue-Sat). It was built in 1900 in the style of the European theaters with many marble columns, a big cupola and frescos. It was completely restored in 1981.
Many exhibits and celebrations are set there all year long.

In front, the Autonomous University of Yucatán, with an eclectic style, has a nice baroque gate from the seventeenth century. The folkloric ballet has a show in the inside patio every Friday at 9PM (fee MXN$35) except August and September as well as the last two weeks of the year (corner 60 y 57).



Even more north, a pleasant square called Plaza Santa Lucia (corner calles 60 and 55) holds the craft market on Sunday. Many Indigenous women of Yucatán come there to sell their home made huipiles. Every Thursday, the square is animated by folkloric ballets and serenades from 9PM.

Celebration on Saturday Night !     Left picture : Celebration on Saturday Night !


To go to the Museum of Anthropology and History, take the Paseo Montejo, a nice avenue with beautiful houses from the early twentieth century, the result of the prosperous exploitation of sisal. You can walk this avenue or ride a carriage to discover the architectural details of the stately houses.



The regional museum of anthropology and history of Mérida is worth a visit as much as the one of México. It is located in a very nice palace (Canton Palace, ancient house of the governors), built in 1911 (open 8AM-5PM, Tue- Sun, MXN$41, free admission on Sunday for Mexicans, located corner Calle 43 and Paseo Montejo). The stones come from Europe. There is an excellent and very complete presentation of objects of the Mayan art, on both floors.

On Stroll, preferably in the morning, in the municipal market Lucas de Gálvez, located at the southeast of the Zócalo, with an unceasing activity until dust (8PM on weekdays and 5PM on Sunday). The whole neighborhood overflows with shops. While walking between the picturesque stands of fruits, vegetables, sweets and typical spices, we discover the wide variety of exotic ingredients that comprise the Yucatán food. The streets 65 and 67, facing the street 56, are reserved for local crafts.
You can choose all the sisal items you want (bags, hats). You can also find very comfortable cotton or nylon hammocks. Housed under arches, now occupied by small shops, the old grain market has retained the atmosphere of colonial markets.
typical restaurant in municipal market

     Right picture : typical restaurant in municipal market

For shopping, see also the Casa de las Artesanias, calle 63 #503, between 64 and 66, open everyday from 9AM and the Plaza Artesanal Santa Lucia, calle 60 # 469 between 53 and 55 (open daily 7AM-9PM). For the hammocks, we recommend the shop Hamacas El Aguacate, corner calles 58 and 73, open on weekdays from 8AM to 7PM and on Saturday 8AM-5PM. Buy preferably a matrimonial (full size) in nylon or cotton. In all cases, discuss the price. You shoud not pay more than MXN$300.

 






Each Saturday, from 8PM to 1AM, the streets are closed to make room for the party. Also on Sunday, the historic center is closed to traffic between 9AM and 9PM to allow for recreational, cultural and gourmet activities : painting, music, dances, theater, books and local craft type hats, hammocks, typical shirts, embroidered dresses, confectionary, etc...

 

festival organized every Sunday in the center of MéridaCity map of Mérida :

Left picture : festival organized every Sunday in the center of  Mérida

 

 

 

 

 


     
 
Peon Contreras Theater in Mérida Handicraft in the Saint Lucia park
Mérida cathedral governemental hall in Mérida
Handicraft at Saint Lucia park Handicraft at Calle 56A
dances in the street on week-end dances in the street on week-end
Festival de la trova, downtown Mérida yucatan dances
cathedral by night city hall of Mérida


      Above pictures : differents views of Mérida dowtown and dances



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