Days 7 & 8
We pulled into the inspiring capital city of Yucatan, Mérida, on day 7 of our Caravan tour, excited with the prospect of a 2-night stay. Mérida is the largest city in the state of Yucatan and the cultural and financial capital of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was founded in 1542 by Spanish Conquistadors and has a current day population of approximately 1.5 million people. The first rulers here, beyond the ancient Maya, were influenced by Spain, which is reflected in its rich colonial flavor.
Mérida was built on the former Mayan center, T’Hó, which for centuries was a cultural and activity center of the Maya world. Because of this, many historians consider Mérida to be the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Mérida had become quite prosperous with the production of henequen, an agave used to make rope and twine. At this time it was said to house more millionaires than any other city in the world. This wealth can still be seen today in many of the elaborate homes along the main avenue, Paseo de Montejo, where stunning sculptures are also on display. Many of these homes have been restored and now house banks, insurance companies and other commercial space.
A majestic monument, standing as a tribute to the Mexican people, is on display upon entering the city.
Detailed carvings along some of the monument’s panels provided a representation of the rich Mayan history of the area.
Our 2-night stay was at a hotel that is one of the few original art deco houses remaining in Mérida, Casa Del Balam, house of the jaguar. It was once occupied by the distinguished family of Fernando Barbachano Peon and is located in the heart of El Centro.
A courtyard in the center of the hotel lobby held bistro tables surrounding stone fountains and plants where one could enjoy a quiet meal. The pool area was equally charming, particularly at night.
Our room was lovely and had a Moorish feel to it.
While heading out to view the city, we came across a small plaza with a monument paying homage to Maternidad (motherhood). It is apparent, when looking at statues such as this or people watching, family is of utmost importance to all in this country.
The Plaza Grande is one of the anchors for the city, with the cathedral and municipal buildings bordering it.
The Catedral de San Ildefonso was built between 1561 – 1598, making it one of the oldest in the Americas. Carved stone from ancient T’Hó can be seen in the walls of the main cathedral.
Although the interior of this cathedral was not as ornate as some we had seen earlier on this tour, we found the marble archways and columns to be magnificent.
A statue of St. Charbel is represented in the cathedral, with a multitude of colorful prayer flags hanging behind him and across his outstretched arms. His reputation for holiness prompted people to seek him in life to receive a blessing and to be remembered in his prayers. This tradition continues long after his death.
The Plaza de la Independencia, built between 1734 – 1736, houses the Palacio Municipal, and lines one side of the main plaza. Its striking red color, with white portales (arches and columns) and grand clock tower make it an impressive contrast to other buildings in the area.
The Palace of Don Francisco de Montejo, now a museum and art gallery, was occupied by the family until the 1980’s. This very ornate structure was completed by the son of the Spanish conquistador who attempted to conquer the Maya in the 1540’s. Although difficult to see from the picture below, each of the large figures depicting conquistadors to the left and right of the balcony are standing on two heads crying out in terror. Many speculate that these victims represent the Maya who Montejo sought to conquer with fierce brutality.
This palace was constructed in the “plateresque” style, which is a blend of Gothic, Moorish, and late Renaissance. Many architectural historians believe that it is the finest work of the plateresque styling in all of Mexico. Note the detailing in the window framing below.
We discovered that there is frequently free entertainment at night at parks scattered throughout the city. The first night of our visit we spent some time at a wonderful concert at the Santa Lucia Parque just up the street from our hotel.
After our tour of Chichén Itzá the following day, we had time prior to dinner to walk the Paseo de Montejo, a beautiful tree-lined avenue with brick walkways, featuring many mansions with ornate facades and interesting looking museums. I have included a few photos below to provide a flavor for the breathtaking architecture in this city.
And last, but not least…
This business would capture anyone’s attention!
What a great introduction to a fascinating city. Terry and I both decided that this is on our list for future visits as a 2-day stay has just whetted our appetites.