The capital of Yucatán state and its colonial heart, Mérida is a bustling city full of grand, Spanish-style buildings in varying states of repair. There is continual activity in the centre, with a huge influx of tourists during the high season mingling with busy Meridanos going about their daily business. Although the city has been developed over many years for tourism, there is plenty of local flavour to discover off the beaten track. Attempts to create a sophisticated Champs Elysées-style boulevard in the north of the city at Paseo Montejo have not been quite successful; the plan almost seems to go against the grain of Mérida’s status as an ancient city, which has gradually evolved into a place with its own distinct identity.
The city revolves around the large, shady Zócalo site of the cathedral, which was completed in 1559 and is the oldest cathedral in Latin America. It contains the Cristo de las Ampollas (Christ of the Blisters), a statue carved from a tree that burned for a whole night after being hit by lightning, without showing any signs of damage. Placed in the church at Ichmul, it then suffered only slight charring (hence the name) when the church was burned to the ground. To the left of the cathedral on the adjacent side of the plaza is the Palacio de Gobierno, built in 1892. It houses a collection of enormous murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco, depicting the struggle of the Maya to integrate with the Spanish. The murals can be viewed until 2000 every day. Casa de Montejo is on the south side of the plaza, a 16th-century palace built by the city’s founder, now a branch of the bank Banamex. Away from the main Plaza along Calle 60 is Parque Hidalgo, a charming tree-filled square, which borders the 17th-century Iglesia de Jesús. A little further along Calle 60 is the Teatro Peón Contreras, built at the beginning of the 20th century by an Italian architect, with a neoclassical facade, marble staircase and Italian frescoes.
There are several 16th- and 17th-century churches dotted about the city: La Mejorada, behind the Museum of Peninsular Culture (Calle 59 between Calle 48 and 50), Tercera Orden, San Francisco and San Cristóbal (beautiful, in the centre). The Ermita, an 18th-century chapel with beautiful grounds, is a lonely, deserted place 10 to 15 minutes from the centre.
There are several museums in the city: Museo de Antropología e Historia, Museo Macay, Museo de Arte Popular, Museo de la Canción Yucateca, Pinacoteca Juan Gamboa Guzmán and Casa Catherwood....
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