The state next to Quintana Roo is Yucatán. Visiting Yucatán’s most important attractions is easy, and in this first article we’ll look at a little of its history to understand the legacy that continues to this day.
If you live in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos or Tulum driving around the Yucatán Peninsula and discovering cities such as Mérida, the capital of the state, is safe and easy.
The exact origin of the name Yucatán is not known. It may, however, come from a corruption of the translation from Maya into Spanish: when the conquistadors asked what the name of the region was, legend has it that the natives may have answered yuk ak katan (“I don’t understand your language”). Other versions include uh yu uthaan (“listen to how they talk”) and Ci u than (“I don’t understand”).
Francisco de Montejo “El Adelantado” was the commander of one of the vessels of the expedition led by Juan de Grijalva and Hernán Cortés, and he was charged with conquering the Maya territory of Yucatán, although his first two attempts, in 1528 and 1535, failed. During that period Montejo was named governor of Tabasco, and later held the same post in Honduras and Chiapas. In view of his responsibilities he entrusted his son, also named Francisco de Montejo and known as El Mozo, to conclude the conquest of Yucatán. He founded the city of Mérida on the site of the Mayan city Tho, on 6 January 1542.
When the Spaniards entered Tho in 1541 they discovered a settlement of some 200 wattle and daub houses next to ruins overgrown with vegetation; the population amounted to some 1,000 inhabitants.
The first map of Mérida
Mérida’s City Museum shows a lithographic stone whose top right corner reads: “Typographic map of the city of Mérida drawn up on the instructions of His Excellency the Imperial Commissioner of the Peninsula of Yucatán, José Salazar Larregui, by the engineers of the Scientific Commission he appointed: Mauricio Von Hippel, Carlos Ramiro, Francisco de P. Beltrán and Carlos Maya, under the direction of the head of the topographic section, Agustín Díaz, 1864-1865”.
There are other geographical maps of the Peninsula, its roads and its parishes that are much older than the stone exhibited in the Museum, to be sure, but prior to 1865 there was no map of the entire city of Mérida, which is why the inscription on the lithographic stone shows that the oldest map of the city was carved on its surface.
Merida’s architecture reflects the socioeconomic policies of the first revolutionary governments, who combined nationalist and regional styles such as the neo-Mayan, neocolonial and modern Yucatecan regionalism. The characteristics of the neo-Mayan style, which reflect its pre-Hispanic roots, feature false arches, descending serpents with heads as columns, cornices, decorated edges, deities and masks. Examples include the Las Américas Park, Ex Sanatorio Rendón Peniche, Diarios de Yucatán y del Sureste, Casa del Pueblo, Monuments to the Homeland, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and La Mestiza, the pilasters of the General Cemetery and the tombs of Felipe Carrillo and Alma Reed. The architects Manuel and Max Amábilis and Angel Bachini deserve special mention, as does the sculptor Rómulo Rozo. Examples of the Neocolonial style include the Plaza de Toros Mérida, Estación Central De Ferrocarriles, Campo Deportivo Salvador Alvarado, Palacio Municipal, etc. Art Deco buildings dating from the 1930s include Edificio Nacional, Cine Mérida y Rex, Facultad de Medicina y Ex Hospital Psiquiátrico.
When you visit Mérida for the first time, we recommend you travel on the Turibus, which provides detailed, wide-ranging information on the city’s most emblematic landmarks and a tour of the city’s stately mansions, which feature French, Spanish and other foreign influences and characterize this elegant city.
In our next blog we’ll be talking about Merida’s main attractions, so keep in touch!