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Merida

Capital of of the State of Yucatan, and a lively and cuturally rich colonial city

Merida is not only a vibrant colonial city, but it is also in the heart of the ancient land of the Mayas. Visitors to the city can tour a number of world famous archaeological sites in the area, including Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Mayapan and the Puuc cities of Kabah and Sayil.

 

Merida is not only a vibrant colonial city, but it is also in the heart of the ancient land of the Mayas. Visitors to the city can tour a number of world famous archaeological sites in the area, including Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Mayapan and the Puuc cities of Kabah and Sayil.

 

The Cathedral.  This rather imposing building was constructed in 1561-98 from the stones of a Maya temple and was the first Catholic cathedral built on the American mainland. It is also the largest in the Yucatan peninsula. The solemnity of the design is a result of it also having to serve as a fortress in the conflicts between the Spanish and the native Indians. Inside, to the left of the main altar as you enter the cathedral, is the region’s most sacred icon, “Cristo de las Ampollas” or Christ of the Blisters. The origin of the figure was a tree that burned through the night but did not char, from its wood this carving was made. The figure itself survived a serious fire in a nearby church, when it was found blistered but unharmed.

 

Hidalgo Park.  This shady square is a focal point of the city, bringing together businessmen, couples, tourists and a stream of hammock and panama hat vendors. You’ll find lively outdoor cafés shaded by umbrellas and even a cinema The two statues in the square are of Miguel Hidalgo and General Cepeda Peraza, who fought against Porfino Diaz in 1873.

 

Iglesia de Jesus.  Across the road from Hidalgo Park is the Iglesia de Jesus, also built with stones from the Maya temples destroyed here by the Spanish. You can see ancient carvings on some of the stones.

 

Paseo de Montejo.  This major boulevard is Merida’s answer to the Champs Elysées in Paris. Magnificent mansions, built at the height of the henequen industry, line the broad streets – many are now banks or offices. Remember that good road and rail links to Mexico City were not fully completed until the 1960s and you’ll understand why trade with Europe influenced architectural styles and fashions so much here. One of the most beautiful mansions (the Palacio Canton) houses the Museum of Anthropology. Its contents are well worth a look, though not as comprehensive as the one in Mexico City.

 

Palacio de Gobierno.  This elegant building houses the administrative centre of the state of Yucatan. Wander into the courtyard and up the stairs to see a fine view of the Plaza Mayor and Cathedral. The huge mural-sized paintings lining the walls are by Fernando Castro Pacheco, dating from the early seventies, and portray significant events in Yucatecan history.

 

Palacio Montejo.  Merida was founded by Francisco de Montejo, and this was the home of his family for generations until it was sold to a bank in 1980. Look around the doorway at the depictions of conquistadors standing on the heads of Indians. Some of the stones used in the construction of his home were taken by Montejo from the temples he destroyed in the area.

 

The Palacio Montejo in Merida

The Palacio Montejo in Merida – look for the depictions of Conquistadors standing on the heads of the Maya

 

The Market.  Merida’s indoor market is one of the best places to buy locally made hammocks. You’ll see many varieties, and most are sold to locals rather than to tourists – the hammock is a common furnishing in homes from the simplest to the grandest. In fact it is said that more people own hammocks than shoes. Choose between traditional cotton or hard-wearing nylon, but remember that the best quality products have strings woven close together.