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The Museo de la Ciudad in Mérida

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Found just a couple blocks southeast of the Plaza Grande, Mérida’s grand former post office is now home to a museum which introduces the city and its history.

Merida Museum

We decided to move to the Yucatán because of the Maya ruins, the warm winters and the great beaches. We knew nothing about Mérida itself, and only chose it as a base because it’s the peninsula’s largest and best-connected city. But within almost no time, we had advanced from totally ignorant to decently knowledgeable about our new home. In the first twenty-four hours, we had visited the Cathedral, Palacio del Gobierno, Casa de Montejo, and were now at the doors of the City Museum.

Two days before, I would have had no clue what “henequen” was. Maybe a Dutch beer? A card game? But now I’m like, “God, you don’t know what henequen is?” Totally rolling my eyes.

Merida Museum

From ancient Maya beliefs to the arrival of the Spaniards, the Museo de la Ciudad takes visitors on the same historical journey as that offered by the murals in the Palacio del Gobierno, but more studiously. We were eager to learn about our new home, and gobbled the information up greedily, but I can imagine that those with only a day or two in the city might find it superfluous.

Then again, the museum is free. And even if you have no interest in history, there are temporary art exhibitions on the second and third floors, usually featuring artists from the Yucatán. We saw a fun collection featuring robots in popular culture, and another dedicated to the colorful Maya gods.

Location on our Yucatán Map

Rent Your Car For The Yucatan Here

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November 17, 2013 at 11:22 pm Comments (0)

The Plaza Grande and the Casa de Montejo

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The Plaza Grande is the heart of Mérida, and an exhausting day of sightseeing can be had just by touring the buildings which surround it. After visiting the city cathedral on the east and the Palacio del Gobierno on the north, we cut straight across the plaza to check out the Casa de Montejo on the plaza’s southern edge.

Known officially as the Plaza de la Independencia and alternatively as the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza Grande is by far the best spot to become acquainted with Mérida. Whether to enjoy an ice cream in the shops around the plaza or to while away the hours in the shade of a tree, this is the city’s principal meeting spot. Mérida’s oldest buildings are here, as well as its only scam artists: affable fellows who approach you with small talk, before offering to walk you over to “the most authentic crafts shop in town”.

(Amazingly, the friendliness for which Meridians are known appears to apply even to its scammers. A simple “No, thank you” will usually suffice, and then they’ll politely say goodbye and leave you alone. The first time it happened, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to call the guy back and insist that he try harder.)

The Plaza Grande is large, filled with trees and benches, but it’s usually so crowded that finding a shady place to sit down can be difficult. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a spot on one of the many “lover’s chairs” which are found not just here, but on every plaza throughout Mérida. These are benches built for two, allowing lovebirds to sit facing each other.

Built in 1549, the Casa de Montejo sits on the southern side of the plaza. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the house built for the conquistador of Mérida should be the best in town. Descendants of Montejo lived here right up through the 1980s, but today it’s open to the public as a museum. The house retains some period furniture and is remarkably quiet considering the never-ending chaos right outside its doors.

Location of the Casa de Montejo on our Map

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November 16, 2013 at 11:09 pm Comments (7)

El Palacio del Gobierno in Mérida

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On the northern edge of the Plaza Grande, diagonal to the city cathedral, is the Palacio del Gobierno. Built in 1892, the key-lime-colored mansion should be among the first stops during a visit to Mérida.

What makes the Palacio del Gobierno so special, and of particular interest to Yucatán newcomers, is the Salón de la Historia on the second floor. Here, Mérida-born painter Fernando Castro Pacheco has brought the history of the Yucatán to life in a vibrant series of murals.

From the Spanish conquest and the horrendous 1526 bonfire of Maya culture under the auspices of Bishop Diego Landa, to the henequen boom and the selling of local Maya to Cuban slavers, Pacheco has captured the pivotal moments of his region’s history in an unflinching and beautiful manner. Each of the giant murals has a descriptive panel (in Spanish, English and Mayan), and they’re all engrossing. Despite its just being a single room, I spent more time here than in many museums.

My favorite was Pacheco’s interpretation of Maya legend on the stairwell, which stretches across three murals. In the middle is the birth of man, which the ancient Maya believed happened through a stalk of corn. Toward the west, the setting sun provides cover of darkness for the gods of war and jaguar. And in the east, the rising sun shines its light on the glorious culture and learning of the Maya.

The Palacio del Gobierno is free to visit, and found in the center of the city. Considering the throngs outside in the Plaza Grande, we were astounded to be all alone in the salon. If you have any interest at all in Yucatecan history or great art, don’t pass it up. Pacheco, who died in August, 2013 at the age of 95, has put together a powerful and glorious tribute to his land.

Location on our Map

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November 15, 2013 at 11:38 pm Comments (5)

Mérida – Capital of the Yucatán

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A gorgeous colonial-era city of nearly a million people, Mérida is the capital of the Yucatán and was our home for three months. Despite its size, it’s mostly overlooked by travelers. In fact, before deciding to move to the Yucatán, we had never even heard of it! But Mérida is an invigorating city filled with historical sights, hectic markets, friendly locals, relatively few foreigners and an impressive cultural life.

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Mérida was officially founded in 1542 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo. A Maya city named T’Hó had previously occupied the location, but by the time of the conquest, its pyramids were already in ruins and the remaining indigenous population were living in straw huts. Although Montejo and his men encountered fierce resistance, they were able to quickly subdue and dominate the out-gunned locals.

From the very beginning, the Spanish intended Mérida to be capital of the Yucatán. Its development followed a very structured layout, with a grand central plaza where the pyramid of T’Hó once stood. An enormous cathedral, just the second in the New World, was constructed on the east side of the plaza. To the north, the governmental palace was built. To the west, the Imperial Palace. And a marvelous residence for Conquistador Montejo himself on the plaza’s southern side. With this Plaza Grande as its nexus, the city sprawled out in every direction.

Despite its capital-city status, Mérida remained a relative backwater for most of its history. No highways connected it to the rest of Mexico, and a perceived lack of natural resources held its growth in check. That changed in the late 18th century with the “discovery” of henequen: a high-quality fiber made from agave. The “green gold” brought unheard-of riches to the Yucatán and Mérida expanded rapidly, becoming the first city in Mexico with street lighting and cable cars. Culture flourished, and the downtown was completely renovated. Of course, while Mérida’s lords and ladies were enjoying their exciting new wealth, the Maya (who had been using henequen for centuries) were being exploited worse than ever.

With the invention of artificial fibers, the henequen boom petered out and Mérida settled back into its regular rhythm. The traces of its former glory, however, remain. Mérida has an uncommonly active cultural and intellectual scene and its historic center is one of the largest in the Americas, with beautiful colonial buildings on every block. Throughout the week, there are free musical performances downtown. Crime is rare, with violence toward tourists practically non-existent, and Meridians themselves are about the most laid-back and friendly people imaginable.

Location on our Yucatán Map

Great Hotels In Mérida

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November 13, 2013 at 1:53 am Comments (2)

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The Museo de la Ciudad in Mrida Found just a couple blocks southeast of the Plaza Grande, Mérida's grand former post office is now home to a museum which introduces the city and its history.
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