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MERIDA

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When we talk about Mérida, the capital of Yucatan, a distant state that seems to be an appendix of Mexico's, we have to refer to the Mayan Culture, the first people to use a zero in mathematics, the civilisation that created one of the most accurate calendars in the world, and an advanced hieroglyphic written language.

Yucatan is the home of the Mayas and their descendants for more than 30 centuries now, a race that knows of grandiosity but also of tragedies and extremely violent disputes, such as the Spanish conquest or the War of the Castes, a struggle occurred in the XIX century as a consequence of the social and economic inequalities between the Europeans and the natives.

The result of the said struggle chills even today: half of the natives died during the cruel confrontations, bringing tragedy and sorrow to the land of Yucatan, and to a reduced, depressed and melancholic people that seemed to be condemned to disappearing; however, the culture and roots of this ancient people survived and are still standing.

Yucatan and its capital Mérida keep the best of their pre Hispanic and colonial past. Wonderful Mayan compounds made of stone, with seemingly endless flights of stairs and temples in which the ancient gods were worshipped, but also churches of exquisite features and an alleyway "sown" with palaces of reverie, which seem to have been extracted from a fairy tale.

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  • The fact is that Mérida impresses and overwhelms at the same time; its superb buildings of Hispanic features, its splendid palaces and exquisite colonial haciendas, and those surged during the boom of a vegetal fibre called henequen, awaken the admiration of both locals and strangers, but are also the cold evidence of a history full of injustices and the ostracism of the indigenous people.

    Contradictions on the surging of Mérida: destroy and build, tear down the sanctuaries and palaces of the Mayan City of T'ho, an architectonic boast that impressed Hispanic founder Francisco de Montejo, "The Young", for the purpose of using those same stones in building those colonial big houses and churches, that fill with pride the capital of the current State of Yucatan, created on January the 6th of 1542.

    Ironically, it was the resemblance of the Mayan precincts with the Roman ruins existing in the City of Mérida, in Spain, that inspired the conquistadors when the time to name the first Iberian settlement on the Yucatan Peninsula came; nevertheless, the evocation and remembrance of their distant homeland, did not diminish the destructive desires of the newly arrived.

    Magnificent monuments from the colonial period have survived, such as the Cathedral of San Idelfonso, from the late XVI century, and its neatly achieved early Spanish renaissance style; or the House of Montejo, a notable sample of civil architecture of the mid XVI century, where the conquistador and city's founder used to live.

    Other emblematic jewels of Mérida's urban centre are located on Montejo Drive, amongst which the Canton Palace stands out, a majestic residence of mannerist and baroque characteristics that was the property of General Francisco Canton, one of the entrepreneurs enriched thanks to the henequen, the vegetal fibre that was an economic and commercial boom by the late XIX and early XX centuries.

    The wealth generated by the so-called "green gold of Yucatan", only benefited a few, usually greedy landlords who spent their money at full hand in order to satisfy their desires and lavish way of life, whilst at the same time were mean before the Mayan farmhand, who were forced to leave their skins at the plantations with no economic benefits whatsoever.

    But Mérida is not only a destination of colonial characteristics; there are also pre Hispanic traces in its urban space, such as the Mayan sculptures of the ancient T'ho, also known as Ichcaanziho (Five Hills); and the pyramids and temples of Chichén Itzá, the incomparable pre Hispanic city of religious character that is located just 120 kilometres away from the city.

    The Pyramid of Kukulkán or The Castle, considered as one of the wonders of Mayan architecture for its magnificent proportions, related to the measuring of time, stand out within this archaeological compound. The beautiful Temple of the Warriors with its formidable stone sculptures also stands out in this site.

    The Mayas, a civilisation that extended across the current territories of Mexico and Guatemala, also left the Citadel of Uxmal to humanity, with temples and palaces of splendid designs; besides the most valuable compound of Dzibilchaltún, with its more than 8 thousand stone constructions. It is located at only 22 kilometres from the capital of Yucatan.

    A visit to Mérida, a city located at 510 kilometres from the City of Mexico, must include a tour along the beaches of Progreso, a tourist magnet of sand and sea; and the Port of Celestún, a paradise for those loving wildlife, with mangroves, isles and lagoons that host a great variety of flora and fauna.

    As the capital of Yucatan, the city has a well developed tourist infrastructure with hotels and restaurants, some of which work in the elegant palaces that made of Mérida the "Paris of the New World".

    To know in order to not forget; to visit pyramids and temples, churches and big old houses, all of them impacting, all beautiful; then travellers sense that an inerasable memory begins to fix in their heads: the memory of Mérida and its thrilling history, of Mérida and its palaces, of Mérida and its Mayan imprint and its colonial inheritance; Mérida and its crossbred countenance, the face of present Mexico.

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