Interesting things to do when visiting Merida
Historical church in downtown Mérida
Mérida has plenty of lovely historic churches that are worth taking a look at. In the city’s historic district alone (Centro), there are at least a dozen churches that can be visited on foot. None of the ones I visited were as heavily decorated with stained-glass windows or fancy artwork as I have come to expect from Catholic churches; instead, they all shared a simple beauty that reminded me of the Spanish colonial missions I had seen in Texas and California (makes sense, I guess!). Another feature I very much enjoyed is how most of them have either a little park or plaza attached to it. I especially enjoyed Parque San Juan, located about 3 blocks south of Plaza Grande, near Mérida’s main bus terminal. Located in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, the park features a playground for kids and a small fountain called “La Negrita”. There was a fun, lively atmosphere when we’re there in the early evening. Churches in Mérida can usually be visited in the morning or in the late afternoon/early evening. So whether you enjoy religious travels, architecture or history, I suggest you take the time to look up at least a few of the city’s historic churches.
Take a walk on Paseo de Montejo
As I’ve already mentioned in some of my tips, towards the end of the 19th century, the state of Yucatan greatly prospered thanks to the commerce of sisal with Europe, a plant that even came to be known as “green gold”. This close relationship with the old continent resulted in a lot of European influence in Mérida, which can still be seen in its architecture today. But nowhere in the city is this influence more perceptible than on the Paseo de Montejo. Named after the man who founded the city, this important avenue is often described as the “Mexican Champs-Élysées”. To answer the population’s growing desire to build elegant mansions in the capital, plans were laid out to build a broad avenue a la European in 1888. Paseo de Montejo starts at Calle 47, a couple blocks east of Parque Santa Ana, and runs north all the way to Calle 27, covering 1.6 km or 1 mile. The beginning of Paseo de Montejo is called “Remate de Paseo de Montejo”. The Remate plaza is a fairly new addition, inaugurated in 1995, and the Montejo Monument that stands at its center was added in 2010. This bronze sculpture depicts the two Spanish conquistadors, Francisco de Montejo the elder and the younger, looking at the horizon and at the avenue stretching at their feet.
I truly enjoyed strolling along this avenue, looking at its beautiful mansions. While the beauty of some of them has somewhat faded away, others have been beautifully maintained or restored. One such building is the Italian Renaissance-style Palacio Canton. Originally built as a private residence for General Francisco Canton Rosado, the ex-Governor of Yucatan, it became the official residence of the state’s Governor in 1948, before being converted into the Museum of Anthropology in 1966. The museum was closed at the time of our visit, but usually it is open daily (except on Monday) from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and admission only costs 48 pesos. Further up the street, La Quinta Montes Molina (see my next tip) is another fine example of the mansions built in the Neoclassical French style during the sisal boom.
A few roundabouts were included in the design of Paseo de Montejo, each featuring a monument, but none are as impressive as the Monumento a la Patria, which is located at the official end of the avenue (there are some extensions to the Paseo beyond that point). The monument was sculpted by Colombian artist Romulo Rozo and unveiled in 1956. Although Rozo was born in Bogota, he spent most of his life in Merida and was therefore not a bad choice to pay homage to his adoptive country. The monument features different scenes pertaining to the long and rich history of Mexico, from the founding of Teotihuacan to the Spanish Conquest and the Mexican Revolution. But the focal point of the monument is an impressive 14 ft tall stone figure of a Metizo, carved and decorated in a typical Mayan style, staring sternly at the avenue.
Fernando García Ponce Museum (MACAY)
The Ateneo Peninsular is located next to the cathedral on the east side of Plaza Grande. It was built between 1573 and 1579 as the archbishop’s palace, and it remained in such use until March 1915, when it was seized by the troops of General Salvador Alvarado during the Mexican Revolution. Much of the building was then remodeled from its original Spanish colonial style into a beautiful French neoclassical style, and the two chapels that connected the palace to the cathedral were replaced by the Pasaje de la Revolucion, a glass-covered pedestrial walkway. The building was converted into an Atheneum (hence its name), a place where the population had access to music, literature and drawing lessons. It also housed government offices and a variety of shops. Unfortunately, it became gradually deserted throughout the years and, after being almost entirely abandoned in the 1980s, it was eventually saved and restored by Mérida-born Governor of Yucatan, Dulce María Sauri Riancho. In 1994, the Ateneo Peninsular became the Museo Fernando García Ponce, better known as MACAY, Yucatan’s museum of contemporary arts (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán). Like everything else in the city (or just about!), admission to the museum is free. Unfortunately, the main building was closed for restoration at the time of our visit to Mérida so I can’t comment on its exhibitions, but I did enjoy walking through the sculpture garden housed in the Pasaje de la Revolucion.
The museum is usually open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily (closed on Tuesdays).