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The Silk Route - World Travel: Merida, Mexico
americas asia & far east africa & middle east europe

Mexico: Merida
May 2012

A  bar in Merida


Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan, is a lively place with some great places to eat, wonderful Mayan-inspired murals, Catherwood's original lithographs of Mayan sites and a wealth of Mayan artefacts.

hacienda merida
Hacienda Merida

hacienda merida
Art Deco in Merida.

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San Ildefonso Cathedral

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Restaurant Amaro
hacienda merida

 

In Merida we stayed at the small but beautiful Hacienda Merida. Very friendly staff, great breakfasts by the pool and first rate cocktails.

It was a few blocks from the centre so a bit of a hike but not too bad.

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San Ildefonso Cathedral
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In the cathedral but that isn't  the "Christ of the Blisters" behind the altar, it is to the side and enclosed in an ornate case behind glass.

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Mother's Day celebration.

Merida was under the control of the Spanish for three hundred years after the original Mayan city of Tihoo was conquered in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo.

Montejo built the cathedral using stone from the dismantled Mayan pyramids. Though the facade is now baroque, the interior is much simpler and houses a replica of the celebrated wooden "Christ of the Blisters". Legend has it that it was made from a tree which burst into flames when struck by lightning but did not char, and survived a fire relatively unscathed, only to be destroyed when the cathedral was sacked by revolutionaries in 1915!

We had some good food in Merida. On our first evening we went to Amaro, the highlight being a very theatrical preparation of crepes with orange sauce and cointreau!!

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Restaurant Amaro

The following day we spent exploring the city.

Merida is the capital of the region and very lively. We happened to be there on Mother's Day and there was a great band playing, more like an orchestra, near the Church of Jesus. Children were taking part in a ceremony beaneath a lovely statue of a mother showing a new baby to her elder child.

 

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Just next door to the Church of Jesus is Hidalgo Park which has some of the famous love seats.

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Buildings on the Zocalo: the pink one is the Palacio Municipal - City Hall.
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The Governor's Palace and the cathedral towers.

From there we headed to Merida's main square, the shady Zocalo, where the cathedral and the Govenor's Palace are located.

The palace has a lovely cool green and white arcaded courtyard and is hung with a series of huge murals by the Merida artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. These depict the history of the peninsula, some of them very powerful and describing the subjugation of the Mayan people. There's also one of furtive-looking English pirates who attacked the coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and occupied Belize.

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Three staircase murals depict the Mesoamerican view of the world. Here the creation of man: a Mayan emerges from an ear of maize, as written in the "Popol Vuh", the sacred book of the Maya. A huge hand at the top of the mural appears to hold up the ceiling.

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The gods watch over the creation of man.

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A representation of the West, darkness and death: the sun sinks, heralding nocturnal blackness and the fiersome jaguar, creature of the night, bringing terror and death.
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The Mayan struggle against the conquistadors.
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A fight between an eagle and snake represents the forces of good battling evil. This is also depicted on the Mexican flag.

 

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We had lunch in a great bar on Calle 60 near Hidalgo Park: chicken fajitas and a very good pizza with spicy sauces. The decoration of the bar was great fun, lots of old photos and bright, surprising artefacts.

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Diligently cleaning the glass shelves.
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Casa Catherwood

The Englishman Frederick Catherwood was an avid explorer of ancient antiquities and came to Central America with his friend John Lloyd Stephens, an American lawyer equally fascinated by ancient civilisations. They had both explored historic European and Egyptian locations such as Rome, Jerusalem and Thebes but in 1839 they travelled together to discover the lost world of the Maya.1

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Uxmal

We were very keen to visit Casa Catherwood2 in Merida where a collection of original lithographs are displayed. Unfortunately our map had it in the wrong place and it took a while to find! It was well worth the effort, though, to see a couple of dozen or so images of Mayan sites such as Uxmal and Copan.

 

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On the right is a cylindrical altar at Copan.

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Church of Santiago

 

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Walking back we passed the beautiful 17th century Church of Santiago.

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Church of Santiago

 

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Museum of Anthropology and History

 

 

A very hot afternoon and we retreated to the cool Museum of Anthropology and History housed in the ornate Palacio Canton.

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Jaguar throne from the Temple of the Arch, Chichen Itza; Late Classic/Early Post-Classic (850-1100 A.D.)

 

There are several representations of jaguars highlighting its importance in Mayan mythology. The jaguar was the powerful creature of the night, feared by the Mayans as a symbol of death. Ahau Kin was the name of a Mayan sun god who, after dark, became the jaguar god, lord of the underworld.3

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Human head emerging from between a serpent's jaws, Uxmal Late Classic (800 - 950 A.D.)
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Fragment of a Jaguar Frieze from the Temple of the Tables, Chichen Itza; Late Classic (800 - 950 A.D.)
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Plumed serpent from the Venus Platform at Chichen Itza, Late Classic/Early Post-Classic (850-1100 A.D.)
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Ballcourt ring, Oxkintok.
It is thought that ballplayers tried to project the heavy ball through the ring, using only hips, arms and legs - use of hands and feet was forbidden. It would seem to be impossible given that the rings (there were two in each court) were high up on a wall! Hierogyphs on the ring date it to the Late Classic period, 713-714 A.D.
king head in Merida
Upper portion of a statue of a ballplayer. The decorated cape is rarely found in Mayan art. Originally the lower portion would have worn the typical thick belt to protect the hips. Hacienda San Simón near Uxmal, Puuc style, Late Classic (600 - 1000 A.D.)
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This head, probably of a ruler, comes from Kabah, note the raised welt around the eye and to the mouth, moustache and indentations for eyes perhaps of shell or obsidian.
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Round Block, Chichen Itza.
This was found in El Caracol, the observatory, and probably represents heaven and the underworld below. Along the curved edge are 24 glyphs, 8 of which refer to ahau - rulers and others of high rank. Late Classic -a Early Post-Classic, 900-1200 A.D.
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Hun Nal Yeh the Maya maize god and father of the Hero Twins in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya.4

 

MeridaAt the end of the hall is the Chichen Itza Chac Mool.
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Huehuetéotl, the fire god.5
Chichen Itza
Uxmal ball court ring
An unusual ballcourt ring with a kneeling figure carved on te outside; Uxmal, Late Classic (600 - 900 A.D.)

Uxmal bstatue in Merida
Carving of a naked, bound captive found at Uxmal. Classic (300 - 900 A.D.)

Chichen Itza
An Atlante figure from Chichen Itza - these were used to support tables or altars.
Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza

Small jade carvings recovered from the sacred chenote at Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza
A beautiful jade necklace recovered from the sacred chenote at Chichen Itza.

 

Chichen Itza
Chak Mool found at Chichen Itza; 800-900 A.D.




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Carved stone skulls from a skull rack.
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Tzompantli or skull racks, displayed arrays of human skulls, probably from sacrificial victims, prisoners or slain enemies.

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Carved stone versions are also found on the sides of low platforms at many sites including Chichen Itza. The platforms probably supported the real thing!

There are also some very jolly-looking carvings of skulls, some with hinged jaws, perhaps just decorative objects - the Maya were fascinated by death and the dead so they could even be jewellery!

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Merida

It was so hot that day we went back to the hotel to rest in the shade before excellent cocktails at the hotel bar - a particularly good Margarita Maya made with an anise/honey liquer. We ate at Chaya Maya that night and had a terrific meal, choosing a combo of four traditional dishes: pavo en sac col indio - baked turkey in a thick turkey sauce, pavo en pipian - turkey simmered in a rich pumpkin seed mole, a very good spicy cochinita pibil - suckling pig marinated with achiote (a red paste made from a blend of spices), sour orange sauce, spices, sweet chili, tomato and onion then cooked in banana leaves, and a pavo in relleno negro - turkey cooked in a spicy sauce made from several varieties of blackened chilis and spices which also have the side effect of turning the food black! Plus freshly made tortillas - a couple of ladies stationed in the window make tortillas continuously - and beers. A great meal and a great way to end our stay in Merida - though we had excellent caiprinhas back at the hotel just to finish off!

References

  1. The Lost Cities of the Mayas - The life, art and discoveries of Frederick Catherwood. Artes de Mexico, 1999.
  2. Casa Catherwood
  3. Mythology Dictionary
  4. Maya Cosmological Creation
  5. The Five Colleges of Ohio Digital Collections: Realia Project