one of the arcades around the Zocalo in Merida

Yucatan’s capital is Merida, a sizable city in its own right, with a quite attractive historical centre. We make our way to the Zocalo, the city’s central square, and we start our trip at the market south of here. This is supposed to be the biggest market in Yucatan, and indeed, we wander through a maze of stalls, selling all sorts of things, from food and drinks, plastics and Tupperware to colourful fruits and vegetables and wonderfully smelling spices. Somehow, spices here smell different, sweeter, from those in other markets, in Africa or Asia.

one of the many market corridors

spices carefully packed in plastic

and more colourdul vegetables, neatly stacked

empty crates behind the market

one section of the market sells religious artefacts… like this dollar-covered skeleton

street musician in one of the backstreet behind the Zocalo

typical low rise shopping street in the Merida market area

Outside the markets are more shops, in short pedestrian streets and under the colonnades of what looks like colonial structures. There is a lively atmosphere in town, not only in the shopping area, but also in the backstreets that are lined with simple, one story houses, protected by grills in the window. Some are well maintained, others are almost falling apart, but it looks a lot more real than the over-developed Calzado de Los Frailes in Valladolid.

more shops under a covered arcade

where it is very busy, indeed – in the shade

and this is the type of shop you find there

another typical street in old Merida

the Zocalo, with the cathedral on one side

the entrance to the cathedral

Back at the Zocalo we admired the four sides, each with their own specific building. The San Ildefonso cathedral, with its two white bell towers, dates from the 16th Century, and apparently has been built on top of a Maya temple, as was customary at the time – this is how you demonstrated your superiority over the subjugated people. The church is not particularly attractive, the huge inside minimally decorated. Grave stones are testimony to the important citizens that were buried inside, in the 19th Century.

three crosses outside

inside the cathedral the 19th Century elite has been burried

de Casa de Montejo, from the 1540s, the front still largely original

with intricate decorations over the door

and more brutal ones higher up on the facade

just in case you missed it, the Spanish conquistador resting his feet on the skulls of locals

The most important building on the Zocalo is the Casa de Montejo, the oldest house in town, from the 1540’s – although now only the front entrance is original, the rest has been reconstructed at later dates. The front is especially remarkable for the frieze of Spanish conquistadores with their weapons, and the chopped off heads at their feet. The chief conquistador was Fernando the Montejo, who conquered the ancient Maya city of Tho, whose architectural remains made him think of the Roman ruins in the Spanish city of Merida; voila, the name for the newly built city. Apparently, the descendants of Montejo still lived in the house until the 1980s (!).

the outer walls of the Casa de Montejo

the municipality building, pink

and the inner courtyard of the state governmental palace

with is adorned with an extensive collection of murals

not only the arcades, also one of the main reception rooms is covered on four sides with murals

Next on the square is the pink-painted municipality building, not accessible, whilst on the fourth side is the Palacio de Gobierno, a green building with a colonnaded patio. The building itself is nice enough, but what makes it special are the extensive murals on the ground floor and upstairs, as well as the series of murals in a large hall in front. These have been painted in the 1970s by local artist Fernando Castro Pachego, depicting the history of the Mayas before, and especially after, the contact with the Spaniards. Very powerful images, most of them, well executed in an appealing style – also staying with a Mexican mural tradition from the 1930s of which I hope to see more once we get back to Mexico City.

One block away from the Zocalo is the Parque Hidalgo, with the façade of the Arte Nouveau-like Grand Hotel, and the much older, 17th Century Iglesia de Jesus, which, unfortunately, is closed. This one, too, was built on an ancient Maya temple.

one of the paintings in the room, called “Sale of the Indians”

with details of the salesmen, or the buyers

and of the children that were sold with the adult slaves

as everywhere in Mexico, in Merida one can also find all sorts of artefacts

one of the stately homes along the Paseo de Montejo

with equally elegant entrees

On the way out, a little further from the centre, is the Paseo de Montejo, a stylish long street with several examples of early 20th Century houses, built for the rich sisal barons, the men who dominated the sisal production and trade, at the time called the ‘green gold’, which provided the wealth of Merida, and the greater Yucatan area. In the country side there are still several haciendas testifying to this once important product, that has since succumbed to industrial, artificial replacements. In the end we never managed to visit any of the haciendas, but the comparison with the caliche exploitation in Chile, and its early 20th C replacement by fertilizer, is inescapable.

showing how ostentatious they actually were

at night, the houses along the Paseo look even nicer

many are in use as restaurant


and this is the most famous one, the icecream shop Colon, from 1907

Tagged with →  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *