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The Casa-Museo Montes Molina

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Most of the mansions along the Paseo Montejo have either fallen into a state of disrepair or been converted into banks. But the Casa Montes Molina is a fortunate exception. Owned by the Montes-Molina family for generations, visitors can today tour this amazing house, or even rent it out for special events.

Casa-Museo Montes Molina

The mansion was built in the early twentieth century by Don Aurelio Portuondo, a Cuban businessman who fell in love with a local beauty. Don Aurelio was in Mérida supervising construction of the Peon Contreras Opera House, and was so pleased with the results that he hired the same architects to design his home. After a couple decades, when his fortune had dried up, Don Aurelio sold his mansion to Don Avelino Montes, a Spanish banker who had also fallen for one of Mérida’s young lovelies: Maria Molina Figueroa. (One of the city’s prime products seems to have been its marriageable maidens).

The Montes-Molinas moved in, made some additions to the house, and established themselves permanently on the Paseo Montejo. Today, nearly a hundred years later, the family still owns the property. The furniture is all original, with exquisite chandeliers, mirrors, floor tiling and everything else you might expect inside the mansion of a fantastically wealthy twentieth-century family. The great-granddaughter of Don Avelino and Doña Maria stays here when visiting from Mexico City and, incredibly, a couple servants who waited on the family over thirty years ago are still living in the basement.

During our tour of the house, we saw one of these women scrubbing the linens by hand in a washing basin. The scene fit so perfectly with the spirit of the house, we weren’t even surprised. This place is as authentic as you can get. We’ve been to quite a few historic homes during our travels, but never sensed the spirits of those who actually inhabited them so strongly as in the Casa Montes Molina. The personal items, such as toys and old LPs on the shelves, really bring the place to life.

If you have a chance, make sure to stop by. There are a limited number of tours every day, and just a couple in English, so it’s worth calling in advance to check on times.

Location on our Map
Casa Museo Montes-Molina – Website

Great Hotels In Merida

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January 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm Comments (0)

The Ramparts and Museums of Campeche

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At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the construction of Campeche’s fortifications rescued the city from the devastation of unrelenting pirate attacks. Three hundred years later, the surviving walls and fortresses have shifted their focus to tourism, and are presently home to the city’s best museums.

Seven of Campeche’s original eight bastions are still standing, and a satisfying tour of the city can be had by simply following their circular path. We started at the Baluarte de Santiago, which today hosts Campeche’s Botanical Garden. A walk about the small and attractive garden requires very little time, and costs next to nothing.

A bit farther west down the coast, we visited the sea-facing Baluarte de la Soledad which is home to the Museo de Arquitectura Maya. Spread across the bottom floor of the old fort, the museum introduces visitors to the basic concepts of Maya architecture. Each stele, or carved stone column, is accompanied by a point-by-point description of all the elements and glyphs, along with their probable meaning, which really helps in understanding the cryptic art of the Maya.

Next up was the Baluarte de San Carlos and the Museo de la Ciudad. With all the pirate attacks, Campeche has had a more colorful history than most cities, and this museum presents some of its more exciting and blood-soaked episodes. While I was in the bowels of the fort, reading up on the exploits of buccaneers and swashbucklers, Jürgen was on the roof snapping pictures of the city.

On the other side of Campeche is the Puerta de Tierra, a bastion which served as the city’s main entry point. Today, it’s most well-known for its light-and-sound show, performed three times a week. We arrived early for a performance, but didn’t know that a ticket was required. And by the time we realized our error, the show was sold out. Frustrating, because it’s supposed to be rather good.

Fuerte de San Miguel

All of these bastions were impressive, but for the best fortress and museum, you have to travel a couple kilometers outside of the city and scale a tall hill to reach the Museo de Cultura Maya inside the Fuerte de San Miguel. From the top of this fortress, you can enjoy an excellent view over the sea and city. The museum is spread out across ten rooms, with exhibits that focus on archaeological finds from around Campeche State, including some priceless pieces like a glowing jade mask in perfect condition.

Cheap Accommodation in Campeche

Locations on our Map: Baluarte de Santiago | Baluarte de la Soledad | Baluarte de San Carlos | Puerta de Tierra | Fuerte de San Miguel

More photos from the Baluarte de Santiago
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January 25, 2014 at 6:26 pm Comment (1)

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya

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The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, found on the nothern outskirts of Mérida, is one of the Yucatán’s largest and most popular new museums. From the glories of the past right up into the modern day, the museum takes visitors on a comprehensive journey through the history of the Yucatán’s original inhabitants.

El Mundo Maya Museum

Aimed to coincide with the famous Maya doomsday prophecies, the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya opened on December 21st, 2012. Not exactly the best timing… why open a museum about the Maya on the same day that worldwide interest in them was set to evaporate? But it doesn’t seem to have mattered, because the place was packed when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, despite the high ticket price and an inconvenient location outside the city.

The museum begins with an exhibition about the living Maya, instead of delving right into their illustrious history. I appreciated this; the word “Maya” conjures almost exclusively the images of an ancient race, but this is very much a modern-day people. By starting with their contemporary faces and an explanation of their current situation, the museum doesn’t allow you to forget that.

With the size of the crowd, it was difficult to experience everything the museum has to offer… the interactive exhibits, such as mapping your birthday to Maya astrology or learning how to count with their vigesimal numeric system, had long lines behind them. And it’s no fun to read detailed accounts of archaeological finds, when the impatient people waiting behind you are sighing.

So we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked, and were rather agitated by the time we left. The lesson, though, isn’t to avoid the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, but to choose a weekday, when the number of other visitors will be manageable. This is the kind of place which warrants at least a couple hours of your time.

Location on our Map

Great Hotels And Haciendas In Mérida

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January 23, 2014 at 7:24 pm Comment (1)

La Música Yucateca

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One of the Yucatán’s defining characteristics is its love of music. From the daily free concerts in the plazas around Mérida, to the Mexican pop blasting out of every tiny shop and the kids walking around with their smartphones on speaker-mode, music is an inescapable fact of life. So we weren’t surprised to find a museum dedicated to Yucatecan music, right in the center of town.

La Música Yucateca

Found near the Plaza de La Mejorada, the Museo de la Canción Yucateca takes visitors on a tour of the peninsula’s musical history. The first room introduces ancient Maya instruments, but the exhibits quickly veer into celebrating the twentieth century artists responsible for bringing a golden age of Yucatecan music. For people such as ourselves, without any prior knowledge of the subject matter, reading the backgrounds of people we’d never heard of wasn’t terribly absorbing. It would be like visiting Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame without knowing Elvis Presley from Little Richard.

We were so quickly finished with the museum that we startled the lady from whom we’d bought tickets. The building and its courtyard are beautiful and the entrance price minimal, so it was a pleasant visit, but not an experience we were thrilled about. However, that didn’t stop us from making a return trip two days later. On a balmy Friday night, the museum was putting on a concert paying homage to the some of the peninsula’s greatest artists.

Now this was the kind of introduction I could get behind. For an hour, the talented lads of El Trio Ensueño took us through a musical crash course of the Yucatán’s most popular artists. Cirilo Baqueiro, Manuel Merodio, Guty Cárdenas … I’ll admit that I’m just copying these names from the program, but I really did love the music. Personal favorites included “Si tu no estás aquí” by Sergio Esquivel and Armando Manzanero’s “Somos novios”, the latter of which might be recognized by fans of Perry Como.

In 1971, Perry Como released an English-language version of “Somos novios” called “It’s Impossible”. Naturally, Mr. Manzanero’s permission hadn’t been sought, nor was he offered any compensation. Como and his studio simply translated the song into English, turned it into a massive hit, and even picked up a Grammy for their troubles. It was as open-and-shut a case of copyright theft as has ever existed, but a shameless US court ruled against the Mexican.

Now that I know some of the songs and artists, I’d probably be more receptive to the exhibits inside the Museo de la Canción Yucateca. But regardless of your knowledge of the peninsula’s music, don’t miss out if you happen to be in Mérida while the museum is putting on a show. You don’t need to know the names of the songs to enjoy their rhythms.

Location on our Map

Our Photos In High Resolution

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January 23, 2014 at 5:57 pm Comments (0)

MACAY – Mérida’s Contemporary Art Museum

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Next to the cathedral and inside one of the city’s most historic buildings, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Ateneo de Yucatán (MACAY) offers a great place to escape the sweltering heat of the sun and take in some thought-provoking modern art. During our visit, we were almost as impressed by the fabulous air-conditioning as by the bizarre pieces hanging on the walls.

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The museum is totally free to visit, so even if contemporary art isn’t your thing, there’s no reason not to take a quick tour. This building was constructed in 1573 as an ateneo, or private cultural institution, on the orders of the Bishop Diego de Landa. Perhaps he was still feeling a tinge of guilt for having destroyed every Maya codex, book and idol he could get his hands on during 1562’s notorious auto-da-fé in Maní. Regardless, the ateneo is a striking building, and has found a perfect modern purpose as home to the MACAY.

The exhibition begins on the upper floor in a series of rooms organized around a courtyard. Most of the rooms are dedicated to temporary collections, focusing mostly on contemporary Mexican artists, though there are a couple permanent exhibitions. One features the work of Mérida’s own Fernando Castro Pacheco, one of Mexico’s greatest muralists. We had already been impressed by his work in the nearby Palacio del Gobierno, and were happy to see more.

A tour through the museum can take about an hour, depending on your tolerance for contemporary art. For me, it was a mixed bag; some of the exhibitions were truly fantastic, while others inspired “what a load of rubbish”-type sentiments. But still, I was disappointed when, after walking through the sculpture garden, our tour had come to its conclusion. The MACAY is quiet, cool and interesting, and spending time there is a pleasure.

Location on our Map

Framed Photos From The Yucatan

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January 14, 2014 at 12:35 am Comments (0)
The Casa-Museo Montes Molina Most of the mansions along the Paseo Montejo have either fallen into a state of disrepair or been converted into banks. But the Casa Montes Molina is a fortunate exception. Owned by the Montes-Molina family for generations, visitors can today tour this amazing house, or even rent it out for special events.
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