I love staying in the historic centers of Mexican towns. And I especially enjoy the plazas. In Merida, Yucatan the main plaza in the city is the Plaza de la Independencia, which also goes by a number of other names — Plaza Grande, Plaza Principal, Zocalo. It’s second only to Mexico City’s Zocalo in size and it’s where everyone meets to chat with friends, watch performances by local students, eat, or go online. WIFI is available right from the park bench.
Restaurants, shops, and galleries surround the plaza, as well as some wonderful old historical buildings with gorgeous architecture. The Catedral de San Ildefonso, which began construction in 1562 using stones from the ancient Mayan city of T’ho, is believed to be the first cathedral on the American continent.
Almost every day during our recent visit we were in and out of the Palacio de Gobierno (Governor’s Palace). No, we are not important and had no business dealings with the governor. But this was one of the closest and easiest places to stop for a restroom break or use the ATM. You can run out of pesos quicker than you think when there is a great little shop at every turn!
The old buildings were especially pretty lit at night. And the main plaza in any Mexican town is the only place to be after dark as there is always music and dancing and fun. The Governor’s Palace was built in the 19th century and it showcases enormous murals by the artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals cover the walls on the ground floor and part of the second floor, depicting the violent history of the Yucatan and the hardships of the indigenous people.
One of the prettiest buildings is across the plaza from the cathedral. The Palacio Municipal was also built in the 16th century. There’s a modern culture center next door with an auditorium, art gallery, and planetarium.
One night I saw the pretty lights in the passage beside the cathedral and had to go inside. The old bishop’s palace has been converted into a beautiful contemporary art gallery. It has the best modern art collection in southern Mexico with exhibitions by local artists and European masters.
The people of Merida are incredibly outgoing and friendly to visitors. A young boy offered to accompany me through part of the museum explaining the various exhibits so he could practice his English. My poquito Spanish and his little bit of English worked. I was impressed by his knowledge of the artwork since this wasn’t his field of study, but the next day discovered the importance art is given in the schools.
Groups of school children were gathered in the gallery’s beautiful courtyard during the afternoon. At the MACAY they have a serious commitment to education and provide programs and activities for more than 20,000 children every year.
A couple of blocks from the main plaza the Teatro Peon Contreras is a grandiose Neoclassical building designed by Italian architects in the early 1900s. I walked by this building many times, but I could not get in to take pictures of the stage. I was able, however, to get the local policia to allow me to snap a few shots from the entryway and the upstairs gallery.
In the upstairs gallery photo (above) the building seen between the columns is the university. It’s actually across a very busy street. The UADY (Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan) is a highly respected institution that has existed since 1624. It’s lovely inside, too.
Merida is the capital of Yucatan state and the largest city on the peninsula. It’s modern and prosperous and has a strong mix of both Maya and Spanish heritage. I found it different in many ways from other Mexican cities I’ve visited, but some of my favorite things remain the same — the ringing of church bells first thing in the morning and into the night, intense color in everything, music and art as a part of everyday life, and lots of friendly people and good food.
To Come and Go Like Magic