Before the Spaniards arrived the Mayans
called this territory T’ho, which stands for Five Hills. It was previously
named Ichaanzihó. The city was founded by Don Francisco de Montejo “El Mozo”
on January 6th 1642 over traces of the Mayan settlement. He named the city
Mérida because the ancient prehispanic edifications reminded him of the
Roman ruins located in the homonym city, in Spain.
Thus, downtown was reserved for the Main
Squaret or Plaza Mayor and the sacred stones that had served for Mayan
temples were used to build the conqueror’s houses and buildings, such as the
Royal Houses or Casas Reales and the City Hall, then named Cabildo, as well
as the temples for the new Christian faith, like San Ildefonso Cathedral.
Mérida’s architecture is characteristically
modest and simple, but what distinguishes it the most is the color of the
quarry stone common in the region with which many of its buildings were
built and which brings out the sun’s illumination. This special feature has
earned Mérida its nickname: White City.
During colonial times Mérida’s urban
development was concentric, according to custom. It followed a quadrangular
grid with streets designed as a chess board (this structure remains).
Beginning at the Plaza Mayor and extending
toward the four points of the compass population was divided into four
sections with its neighbourhoods or barrios, which in turn were dedicated to
Patron Saints. That was how San Sebastián drew south, Santiago and Santa
Catarina lay west, San Cristóbal stood east and Santa Lucía and Santa Ana
extended to the north. This disposition clearly determined which
neighborhoods stood outside the city walls and were destined for natives.
Downtown was reserved for the Spanish settlers.
City limits were marked by seven arches which
have now been covered by the urban overflow; only three remain as witnesses
of what was once colonial Mérida: San Juan, Dragones and Del Puente.
Towards the end of the XIXth century the growing economy and the henequen
boom were noticeable due to the construction of impressive haciendas and
beautiful mansions that gave the city a different appearance. This is true
for Paseo de Montejo, one of the city’s main attractions.
Nowadays, colonial structures and monuments
stand alongside new buildings and infrastructure. The old and the new
converge in Mérida, where respect towards tradition and openness
towardsmodernity go hand in hand.
Here, history is etched in stone and can be
uncovered in every corner, in the authentic cultural tradition of the
surroundings. To visit Mérida is to get one’s fill of the art and beauty
which areonly found in a destination such this one, in Yucatán.
The current Governmental Palace was preceded by the Casas
Reales or Royal Houses, which were seat to the colonial government.
Administrative and government business was carried out there, but it also served
as home to the Crown representatives and governors. It was named Palacio de
Gobierno after the Independence. As the XIXth century came to a close the old
building was destroyed and a new one was erected. It was inaugurated on
September 15th, 1892. It was supposed to house all offices pertaining to the
executive power. The neoclassic Palacio is two stories high and extends over a
quadrangular surface of a little over 137 feet, front and depth. Inside, a
central courtyard of great dimensions stands out. It also has 27 murals that
were painted between 1971 and 1978 by yucatecan artist Fernando Castro Pacheco.
These are distributed in both floors, in the corridors, the Salón de la Historia
and the stairwell, and are considered the most important modern pictoric work in
Yucatán because of their content and skill. The Governmental Palace is not only
a real museum but also sums up the political life of the state.
Palacio de Gobierno is open from 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M., and is located at the
intersection of Calle 61 and Calle 60, Downtown. There is a tourist information
module at the main entrance, which is open from 8:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M., Monday
Iglesia Catedral It was built 19 years after the
founding of Mérida, in 1561, when king Felipe II requested the capital’s church
be set up as cathedral and assigned to San IIdelfonso, archbishop of Toledo. It
became the first cathedral in America built on solid ground. The architectural
style is Moorish, for the towers and inside; the façade is Renaissance. It has
baroque altarpieces on some walls. Its sober façade has a semicircular arch
where the main door “Puerta del Perdón or Foregiveness Gate” is located. It is
flanked by statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The clockwork for the enormous
clock was built in London (1731). It told time until 1871.
Cathedral ample room is divided into three naves with coffered vaults and Gothic
ornamental bows. Here stand the Capilla del Cristo de las Ampollas (1656) as
well as the baptismal and the tabernacle chapel or Capilla del Sagrario (1904),
the vestry and Capilla de San José (1610) and the Capilla del Rosario (1610). At
the high altar the image of the Cristo de la Unidad stands out and stands tall
at a little over 25 feet. It was sculpted in birch wood by the artist Ramón
Lapayese del Río, who was born in Madrid. The Cathedral is located at the
intersection of Calle 60 and Calle 61, Downtown.
Museo de Arte
Contemporáneo Originally the bishop’s palace or Palacio Episcopal, in 1915
this building was confiscated by the ruler in turn, General Salvador Alvarado,
who not only began to alter the façade and interior but also ordered the
demolition of both chapels that joined it to the Cathedral. Its current name
comes from the literary society which met here, the “Ateneo Peninsular”.
In 1994 the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán, better known as
MACAY, was installed. MACAY is one of the main promoters for the development and
diffusion of contemporary art in southeast Mexico. Its high quality and prestige
place it as a space of indispensable reference for artists who want to make
their work known in the southern part of this country. The museum is open from
10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. during the week and from 10:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. on
Saturdays and Sundays. It is located on Calle 60, between 61 and 63, Downtown.
The entrance is through the Pasaje a la Revolución, where installations and
works of art are exhibited outdoors.
Casa de Montejo Following his
father’s orders, Francisco de Montejo y León “El Mozo” had this house built
between 1543 and 1549. It was to become this conquering family’s dwelling place.
Its façade, the only part of the house that hasn’t been altered, is considered
the most valuable jewel of architectural Plateresque art in the country. Cut in
stone, the original statues of figures and mythological beings catch the eye.
The family’s impressive coat of arms stands above the central balcony. A
tecnical study has uncovered that the lower part of theportico had a European workforce behind it while the newer and higher
part is more recent and was completed by the natives.
Many years ago this
property was acquired by a banking institution that has invested in its upkeep.
It is located on Calle 63, between 60 and 62, Downtown.
To get acquainted with Mérida you must start at the Plaza Grande. For over three
centuries, the Plaza Grande (as locals call it) has been the heart where the
city’s political, ecclesiastical and civilian life beats. Even though it is a
silent witness to the history that has been written around it, important events
have taken place at this square, such as the execution of indigenous leader
Jacinto Canek and the federalist’s combats.
In 1871 the Plaza Grande was
extended and improved. At that time it was the starting point for all four
streetcar lines. Between 1886 and 1889 a two-storey bandstand was built in its
In order to get rid of the traces left by the defeated political
regime the square was redesigned in 1915: the first octagonal central platform
was built, binary seats were installed andbushes were
planted. Mercurial lighting was added in 1959.
Today, the Plaza de la
Independencia with its S-shaped benches called confidentes (confidants) is a
spatious circuit in which two rows of corpulent old laurel trees grow. By day
these guardians throw their shade on the garden and shelter passers-by from the
heat, but in the evenings and at night there is an atmosphere of freshness and
delight under their crowns.
In the surrounding area and on the streets
nearby the bustle and traffic of a modern city prevail. It’s located between
calles 60, 61, 62 and 63, Downtown.
Palacio Municipal City Hall was
built during Santiago Aguirre’s term in office (1734-1736). Here is where the
Independence of Yucatán from Spain was decided, and where the public holidays of
16 de Septiembre and 5 de Mayo were celebrated until 1892, when the modern
Governmental Palace was inaugurated. Its façade has been modified several times
in the course of the years. For example, in 1871 the first clock in Mérida was
placed here. The oldest coat of arms of the city, which once adorned the eastern
wall of Ciudadela de San Benito, that no longer exists, is fitted on the wall by
the staircase. The elevated courtyard at the back is what remains of the Mayan
pyramid of Bakluum-Chaam.
In the Salón de los Cabildos there is a mural
that depicts an allegory of miscegenation or métissage. This building now houses
the offices of the honorable city council and city hall. Every Monday, opposite
these premises, the traditional vaquería (barn dance) takes place at 9:00 P.M.
It’s located on Calle 62, between 61and 63.
Centro Cultural Olimpo The
Cultural Centre as we know it today was inaugurated in 1998. It stands next to
the Palacio Municipal, on the site where many years ago a colonial building also
known as El Olimpo was demolished. This new building is a fine example of the
remarkable adjustments made by contemporary architecture to fit in alongside
older edifications located in Mérida’s Historic Center.
Cultural aims to promote a wide range of artistic and cultural expressions. It
houses several exhibitionsthroughout the year. Since September 29th, 2003 it is
also home to the Arcadio Poveda Ricalde Planetarium, where visitors can enjoy
fascinating journeys into the Cosmos. It is also an educational institution for
Astronomy and other sciences. It’s located on Calle 62, between 61 and 63,
Downtown. Open from Tuesday to Sunday. Special fees are available for childrenand seniors
Teatro Daniel Ayala Constructed in a big house
built during the XVIIth century, this venue consisted of a foyer, orchestra
seats, wing box seats made of wood and a “U” shaped gallery over the boxes. On
February of 1920 it began featuring both plays and movies, but by the 1940’s it
was named Cine Principal and was only used as a movie theater.
In 1973 it
closed. Months later Governor Carlos Loret de Mola Mediz had the foyer and the
façade renewed and turned it into the state’s Centro Cooperativo Artesanal (arts
& crafts co-op).
In November of 1975, after the stage was reconstructed,
it was “christened” with its current name, Daniel Ayala Pérez, after the late
Yucatecan musician who was born in Abalá in 1908.
In 1976 the stage was
complemented with a grid and a pit for 50 musicians. Two dressing rooms and 400
seats were also added. The venue became the state’s Centro Cultural and
headquarters for the artistic groups that belonged to the recently created
Cultural Office. In 1987 the property was restored once more and new services
and facilities were included. Since then it is used as an artistic and cultural
arena that showcases dance, theatre and music. It’s located on Calle 60, between
59 and 61, Downtown.
Parque Hidalgo Located by Calle 60 by 59, it’s
the second public park in Mérida. This area was first converted into a park in
1871 and named Parque Central. In 1877 it was renamed Parque Hidalgo in honor of
Mexican Independence hero, Don Miguel Hidalgo, but in 1896 the statue of a
Yucatecan hero was put here and since that time it is better known as Parque
Cepeda Peraza. In this spot, favored by students, it is easy to feel like
reading a good book under the almond trees or drinking delicious refreshments in
one of the nearby restaurants. It is also possible to buy several crafts and
watch the craftspeople at work.
Iglesia de la Tercera Orden Also known
as Iglesia del Jesús, this baroque church with rock scupltures that have native
influence was built in the XVIIth century by the Jesuits. As with other
buildings constructed at that time, Mayan remains were used. These are visible
on the south side of the property. On its façade, adorned with vegetable motifs,
an antique stained-glass window and two belfries catch the eye. Also worth
mentioning is the lovely atrium cross elevated on a cut stone base.
interior has marked Franciscan influence and beautiful fresco paintings
depicting biblical scenes. At the back of the nave there is an exquisite wooden
altar with gold inlay and a hemispherical dome with a circular drum. Decorations
reach all the way up to the vaults on which flowers are painted. Located at the
corner of Calle 60 and Calle 59, Downtown.
Parque de la Madre
Considered to be the first park to honor the mother figure it was formerly known
as Parque Morelos and is located next to the Iglesia de la Tercera Orden. It was
founded on February of 1909 by initiative of the Social Action League. The
statue that adorns it is a marble reproduction of an original by André Lenoir
that is located in Paris, France.
Here it is possible to enjoy a peaceful
moment, buy some crafts or rest after wandering through the city. Located on
Calle 60, between 57-A (Callejón del Congreso) and 59.
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