Main tourist attractions in Merida
a) Government Palace ▼
This magnificent building finds a precedent in the Royal Houses, the colonial government places. It served both as an office for administrative and government business, as well as bedrooms for the official representatives of the Crown. Once independence was consummated, the place was called Government Palace, and in the late XIX century the old building was destroyed to build the one we have today.
It was inaugurated on September 15, 1892. The Palace, an eclectic classical style, has two levels and covers a square surface of 42 meters on the front and depth. There is a large central courtyard on the inside, which covers a great extension. It holds 27 murals made between 1971 and 1978 by Fernando Castro Pacheco, a renowned Yucatecan artist. These murals and paintings represent the most important and significant master piece in the State. The Government Palace is a truthful museum and briefly embodies the state’s political life.
b) Cathedral ▼
It was built in 1561, 19 years after Merida was founded. By appointment of King Philip II, from Spain, the church of the capital of Yucatan was set up in the Cathedral and was dedicated to honor San Ildefonso, archbishop of Toledo.
The Cathedral architectural style is Moorish in the towers and in the interior and the façade is Renaissance. It has Baroque altarpieces in some of its walls. Its sober façade has a half point arch; the main door holds an inscription, which states “The Door of Forgiveness” and on the outside it is flanked by sculptures of St. Peter and St. Paul.
On the inside, there are three aisles with coffered vaults and Gothic tracery in a large space; the Chapel of the Christ of the Blisters, baptistery and chapel of the Tabernacle, the sacristy and chapel of San Jose, and the Chapel of Rosario. On the main altar stands an image known as the Christ of the Unity, hand-carved on birch wood, by Spanish sculptor Ramón Lapayese del Río.
c) House of Montejo ▼
It is located in the Historical Center, in front of the Main Square. It was built between 1543 and 1549 by Francisco de Montejo y Leon “El Mozo” by appointment of his father, in order to provide a home for the Spanish conquerors.
The main façade, which has not been altered, is considered the most valuable jewel of the art and civil plateresque architecture of the nation. The hand-carved stone stands out for the delicate original figures of personages and mythological characters. On top of the central balcony, the heraldic coat of arms of the Conqueror’s family stands. The building currently operates as part of the Montejo House, a Museum opened in 2010.
d) City Hall ▼
It was built during the government period of Santiago Aguirre (1734-1736), and through its history has undergone several changes on its façade. The decision of the Independence of Yucatan over Spain was decided here. In 1871 the first clock of Merida was placed there. On the wall of the staircase the oldest coat of arms of Merida was built in. This was once on the eastern wall of the former citadel of San Benito. Now it hosts the offices of City Hall and Presidential Hall. Every Monday, in front of the building, a traditional dance performance (vaquería) is held at 21:00 hrs.
e) Church of the Third Order ▼
It was built in the seventeenth century. It presents a baroque style with native influence in the stone sculptures. It is also known as the Church of Jesus, since it was built by the Jesuits. Like other constructions of the same period, Mayan archaeological elements were used in order to build this church. They can still be admired in its south side. There is an antique stained-glass and two bell towers in its façade and it is decorated with plant motifs. Inside of it, you can contemplate the murals painted on the walls, which represent Biblical scenes. In the background of the church, there is a beautiful wooden altar with golden embeddings and a hemispherical dome supported by a circular drum that has a very important Franciscan influence. You can see flowers painted even in its vaults. The exterior is remarkable for its beautiful crucifix placed on a carved-stone plinth. It is located at the Historical Center.
f) Autonomous University of Yucatan ▼
In this place was founded, under the tutelage of the Jesuits, the San Pedro de la Real School and the Pontifical University of San Francisco Javier, which opened in 1618, and in 1624 gave way to the Royal and Pontifical University of San Francisco Javier. The Instituto Literario was created in 1824, and years later became the site of the Imperial commissary during the empire of Maximilian of Hapsburg, in Mexico. The educational mission is promoted again in 1867 after establishing a decreed that education was under the state rules, and rising again in 1922, by order of Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto, National Southeast University, now the Autonomous University of Yucatan.
The building now holds the headquarters of the university, the central library, an auditorium, dance and music halls, the University’s Cultural Center Gallery, a basketball court, a video room, the university council hall and the UADY radio station.
g) Main Square ▼
In the main square of Merida you can find the Government Palace, the Cathedral of San Ildefonso -Archbishop of Toledo-, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Montejo House or Casa de Montejo, which was built between 1543 and 1549 by Francisco de Montejo y León "El Mozo". La Plaza Grande, as it is normally called by the Meridians, is the obligatory point of departure when touring the city. There is also the City Hall, the Olimpo Cultural Center and nearby are the Daniel Ayala Theatre, the Hidalgo Park, and the beautiful Church of the Third Order, the Park to Motherhood and the magnificent Jose Peon Contreras Theatre, as well as the venue of the Autonomous University of Yucatan, among many other historical and cultural sites.
The Independence Square is a spacious garden bypassed by two rows of stout and old laurels, to provide pedestrians of a nice shade during the day and an atmosphere of freshness and delight in the evenings and nights for visitors as well. Around this neighborhood and its adjacent streets, you can see the movement and traffic of every modern city.
h) Paseo de Montejo ▼
It is the most important avenue of Merida. It starts in the Santa Ana neighborhood -in the center of the city- and it extends to the exit to Port of Progreso. It was built between 1886 and 1905, inspired on the Champs Elysees in Paris and named after the founder of the city of Merida, Francisco de Montejo y Leon “El Mozo”. Flanked by big tall trees, it also has a dividing strip and many roundabouts. On both sides of the avenue you can find large French-style mansions that were built during the henequen boom in Yucatan from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is divided into two sections: Paseo de Montejo and Montejo Extension. In this beautiful Avenue you can find some of the most famous landmarks of the city such as the Twin Houses or Casas Gemelas, the imposing Canton Palace, the Peon del Minarete house, the Peon de Regil house, the Quinta Montes Molina, the monuments to Justo Sierra and Felipe Carrillo Puerto and the famous Homeland Monument (Monumento a la Patria) which is one of the most important symbols of the city, conducted by the Colombian master Rómulo Rozo.
At the entrance of Paseo Montejo -which is the public space where the tour of the famous avenue begins-, every Saturday evening a public event known as Noche Mexicana is performed, with regional music from around Mexico, sales of typical food and crafts.
i) Olimpo Cultural Center ▼
Located next to City Hall, facing the Main Square, this center was rebuilt and reopened in 1998. The place focuses on fostering on each one of its areas, various artistic and cultural demonstrations. It is an example of contemporary architecture and its remarkable adaptation to the meridian historic center. It holds various exhibitions throughout the whole year; you can also find here the Arcadio Poveda Ricalde Planetarium, a site where viewers have a fascinating virtual trip through the cosmos. The marble interior is a showcase for top international art exhibits, classical-music concerts, conferences and theater and dance performances. It is a teaching center of astronomy and other sciences.
j) Jose Peon Contreras Theatre ▼
This theatre was named after the poet, novelist, play-writer, essayist, physician and politician Jose Peon Contreras, Yucatan (1843-1907).
Its construction started in 1902 under the leadership of Italian architect Enrico Desertti and was opened in 1908. From 1912 it was used as a cinema, when there were scarce theater seasons and in 1981 it was reopened as a theatre belonging to the State Government.
Today it hosts the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra and is the most important cultural center of the state. It holds three temporary exhibit halls, a restaurant and a library as well as a tourist information booth.
k) Great Museum of the Maya World ▼
Located on the Merida – Progreso highway, in an area which was known as the Cordemex industrial complex and where one of the most important cruise ports in Yucatan is located, it is known as the entrance gate to the Mayan world.
it was inaugurated on December 21st, 2012 by the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto and the Governor of Yucatan, Rolando Zapata Bello, to commemorate the end of the “long count” according to the Mayan calendar. It is dedicated to the historical and current Mayan cultures.
The building that holds the museum was awarded in 2013 with the CIDI Ibero-American Award to the Emblematic Building of 2013 in Architecture, Interior Design, Museography, Illumination and Construction (Premio Iberoamericano CIDI Obra Emblemática del Año 2013 en Arquitectura, Interiorismo, Diseño, Museografía, Iluminación y Edificación) granted by the Ibero-American Council of Interior Designers -Consejo Iberoamericano de Diseñadores de Interiores- (CIDI).
The museum has four permanent exhibition halls and two rooms for temporary exhibitions. It holds around 800 archaeological pieces that came from the Regional Museum of Anthropology, "Canton Palace".
l) Contemporary Art Museum ▼
This was the Bishop’s Palace for some time, but after being seized in 1915 by General Salvador Alvarado, in command during the Revolution times, he gave instructions to demolish two chapels that were connected to the main building of the cathedral. The façade and the interior were rebuilt and modified. The building became the site of the Literary Society for many years, and it was given the name of “Ateneo Peninsular”. Years later, in 1994 it became the Athenaeum Museum of Contemporary Art of Yucatan, known as MACAY. Today it is one of the main promoters for the development and dissemination of contemporary art in the southeastern of Mexico. The prestige, quality and reputation, sets the museum as a space of reference for artists that want to present their proposal and art work in the Southern part of the country. It is located in the heart of the historical center, next to the San Ildefonso Cathedral.
m) Regional Museum of Anthropology and History ▼
It was built between 1904 and 1911 as a result of the sisal boom that took place during the Porfiriato period. The manor is named General Francisco Canton, its original owner, and the construction represents the Manierista-Barroque architectural trend, it is perhaps the most important building in Paseo de Montejo, not only for its structural details but for the services that it gives since 1966 in the promotion and dissemination of cultural archaeological knowledge of generations from the past, today and tomorrow. The interiors are made of marble of different tones, with fine plaster frames and ornaments on walls and ceilings.
a) Neighborhood of Itzimna ▼
In 1572 the conquerors built a small chapel that still retains the baptismal font, where once stood the shrine of the Mayan god Itzamná. Later, in 1710 they built the temple that is still being preserved. This beautiful church stands in a court yard among shady trees and well-trimmed gardens, and it is an example of Franciscan architecture of the XVI century. Inside, at the center of the altar, you can admire the statue of “Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro” (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), image brought from Paris in early XX century. Itzimna is one of the most beautiful and traditional sites of Merida, and its parish is the most active of the Archdiocese of Yucatan.
b) Neighborhood of San Juan ▼
The church of St. John (San Juan) was built on a XVII century chapel, right between 1769 and 1770. The corridor, with a Mudejar influence, stands within the set that was part of a public inn for travelers that was behind the temple. It precedes the vestry and is perhaps the last evidence of the original chapel. The Arch of San Juan was built around 1690 to delineate the limits of Merida as part of a possible project for fortification, which never took place. This arch is the largest and it is found in the old exit to Royal Highway (Camino Real) to Campeche.
c) Neighborhood of San Cristobal ▼
In the beautiful neighborhood of San Cristobal, the City Museum is a cultural element of great importance to Merida, both for its architectural features and for its historical value. There one can find the former Federal Mail building, the Lucas de Gálvez market, San Benito Market, Craft /artisanal Market and the García Rejóny Bazar. The beautiful Church of San Cristobal, dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, is home to pilgrimages and processions every December 12th.
d) Neighborhood of La Mejorada ▼
The Mejorada neighborhood, with its seventeenth century church (which was utilized throughout its history as a hospital), prison barracks for women, home to the Architecture school of the Autonomous University of Yucatan, and its park, where the first rail for the Peninsula Train was struck in 1870, is an essential part of the city of Merida. In the historic neighborhood we can also find the Museum of Popular Art in Casa Molina, the Museum of the Yucatecan Song, the historic Dragon and Bridge Arches, the Cultural Center of the Yucatecan child and the Railway Museum.
e) Neighborhood of San Sebastian and the Ermita of Santa Isabel ▼
The San Sebastian neighborhood is one of the oldest and most traditionals in Merida. Since ancient times, a small Maya village was settled on the southwest of Merida, which at the time of settlement was named San Sebastián. Some believe that it happened when Montejo’s troops reached T'ho. In this traditional neighborhood one can find the Shrine of Santa Isabel dating from the seventeenth century and was formerly called the “Shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage” (Nuestra Señora del Buen Viaje), probably for the position by the royal highway to Campeche.
f) Neighborhood of Santa Ana ▼
The Church of Santa Ana was built in 1729 by Governor Captain General Antonio de Figueroa y Silva, who was nicknamed "El manco". A stone plaque placed on the exterior façade of the enclosure, inscribed in Old Castilian, indicates that the remains of its builder lie there. Quiet and peaceful, ideal for avoiding the sun's rays under the branches of trees or enjoying the cool starry nights, the square of Santa Ana hosts flea markets, craft fairs and food fairs.
g) Neighborhood of Santiago ▼
The Church of Santiago is located in the first Maya town that the conquistadors found when they arrived to T'ho. They named the arch of the main entrance of the temple “Santiago” and it was completed in 1637. Since its beginnings, Santiago Park has had a lively and dynamic atmosphere, typical of a neighborhood full of memories. This corner of Merida has its own personality thanks to its surroundings: movie theaters and traditional businesses like the traditional Santos Degollado market. In the neighborhood you can also find the Centennial Park Zoo (built in 1910 on the occasion of the celebration of Independence), and the Museum of Natural History.
h) Neighborhood of Santa Lucia ▼
This traditional and picturesque neighborhood is known for the beautiful Church of Santa Lucia, whose construction started in the late sixteenth century and finished in 1620. Its rectangular entrance framed in stone, stained-glass and steeple characterize it. The atrium of the Church of Santa Lucia worked as a cemetery for the city until 1821. In the 50's, Torre Gamboa painted a mural depicting the torture of St. Lucia. Santa Lucia Park is located in front of the church. The park is also called Heroes Park (Parque de los Heroes). During Spanish rule, this space housed a brotherhood dedicated to assisting patients.
a) Las Americas Park ▼
Completed between 1942 and 1945, the park is a beautiful building, which consists of 3 sections: The first one, a gable-shaped chamber of an architectural style inspired by the ancient Maya. The second section is a construction that features the pleasant setting of the Mayan hut showing totemic figures that are peculiarly Yucatecan: the pheasant and the deer. The third section is the outdoor theater, with an acoustic shell. Located beside this you can find the Iberian Cultural Center, a building that housed for many years the Iberica Hospital and was abandoned since the mid-60s. Later restoration was initiated and it currently offers workshops for seniors and a Bachelor of Performing Arts in the College of Arts Yucatan (ESAY).
b) Hidalgo Park ▼
Its construction began in 1871 and it was then called Central Park. In 1877, Central Park was renamed to honor Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. In 1896 the statue of a hero from the times of Reform, General Manuel Cepeda Peraza, was settled and inaugurated and since then it is well known by that name. It is a place visited by the student community, national and international visitors as well. Under the leaves of the almond trees you can enjoy a good book, a delicious drink in one of the restaurants, or you may purchase various handcrafts.
c) Centennial Park – Zoo ▼
With the idea of having a celebration for the Independence of Mexico in 1810, a project for a recreational park near the city was presented, which originally was focused on creating a botanical garden. The official name would be Independence Park. However, on September 27th, 1810, a sapodilla tree named “The Centennial” was planted and this finally gave name to El Centenario Zoo. It now holds six main areas: aviary, endemic snake collection, primates, mammals, a playground area and a gallery.
Mayan archeological remains
a) Dzibilchaltún ▼
It is located approximately 17 km to the north of Merida. Its name means «where there are writings on flat stones». The most famous structure is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named so because of seven small effigies found at the site when the temple was discovered under the ruins of a later temple pyramid by archaeologists in the 1950s. The other major feature of Dzibilchaltún is its natural well (cenote), Cenote Xlakah, located around the center of the city's ruins. It is thought that the availability of this source of clean drinking water influenced the builders' choice of the location. Archaeological findings retrieved from the cenote by divers indicate that it was the center of a religious cult. These days the cenote is used as a swimming hole by local residents and tourists year round.
Dzibilchaltún also contains the ruin of a 16th-century Spanish church built at the site after the conquest. This archeological site also includes a visitor center with maps, restrooms and gift shops. The renovated museum housing Mayan artifacts located at the site has been re-opened.
b) Xoclán ▼
The antique Mayan site known as Xoclán or «The Seven» is located in the western side of Merida, in Mulsay, District VI of the urban area, only four kilometers from the center of the city. The former materials bank of the city council can be found onsite, even though it is no longer used. It adjoins the Central Market to the north.
c) Chichén Itzá ▼
The pre-Hispanic city of Chichén Itzá (from Yucatec Maya: "at the mouth of the well of the Itza") was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period. The archaeological site is located in Tinúm Municipality, and it was the most outstanding capital of the Maya area.
When Spaniards arrived, it was the most visited center of cult and pilgrimage of Yucatan Peninsula. Chichén Itzá and the Cenote of Sacrifices were, and still are, sacred centers for the Maya.
Chichén Itzá was a major focal point in the Northern Maya Lowlands from the Late Classic (c. AD 600–900) through the Terminal Classic (c. AD 800–900) and into the early portion of the Postclassic period (c. AD 900–1200). The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico and of the Puuc and Chenes styles of the Northern Maya lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Maya styles more as the result of cultural diffusion.
The buildings of Chichén Itzá are grouped in a series of architectonic sets, and each set was at one time separated from the other by a series of low walls. The three best known of these complexes are the Great North Platform, which includes the monuments of El Castillo, Temple of Warriors and the Great Ball Court; The Osario Group, which includes the pyramid of the same name as well as the Temple of Xtoloc; and the Central Group, which includes the Caracol, Las Monjas, and Akab Dzib.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Puuc buildings is the presence of hieroglyphic inscriptions, written in Maya-Yucatecan language, which constantly make reference to a governor named Kak´upakal, meaning «his shield is made of fire».
This is a Cultural Heritage Zone of Mexico, and due to its importance was inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988. On July 7th, 2007, and by a private initiative, the Kukulcán Temple was recognized as one of the new Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Even though it didn’t have UNESCO’s support, millions of voters around the world gave it this recognition.
Chichen Itza holds uttermost valuable information of Pre-Hispanic past. Due to its beauty and singularity, it is a cultural referent for Mexicans and a symbol of national and indigenous identity
El Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan
Without a doubt, it is the most impressive construction of Chichén Itzá. It is located in the west side of La Gran Nivelación. Built by the pre-Columbian Maya civilization sometime between the ninth and twelfth centuries CE, El Castillo served as a temple to the god Kukulkan, the Yucatecan Maya Feathered Serpent deity closely related to the god Quetzalcoatl known to the Aztecs and other central Mexican cultures of the Postclassic period. The pyramid consists of a series of square terraces with stairways up each of the four sides to the temple on top. Sculptures of plumed serpents run down the sides of the northern balustrade. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the late afternoon sun strikes off the northwest corner of the pyramid and casts a series of triangular shadows against the northwest balustrade, creating the illusion of a feathered serpent "crawling" down the pyramid. The event has been very popular, but it is questionable whether it is a result of a purposeful design. Each of the pyramid's four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform on top as the final "step", produces a total of 365 steps (which is equal to the number of days of the Haab' year).
El Castillo was built on a fist temple that has a stairway with rafters, but without serpent heads in its north side. This stairway is finished at the top by a two-chamber temple, one to the north and another to the south. In the north one a Chac Mool sculpture was found and in the south one, there is a jaguar throne painted in red. The feline rests on its four legs, it has its head leaning to the left and on its back, a turquoise and jade disc was found. The animal seems to have been sacrificed by fire. Other felines in a walking position can be admired in the friezes of the substructure of El Castillo and they seem to be heading to the front side of the construction.
d) Uxmal ▼
Uxmal is an ancient Maya city of the classical period in present-day Mexico. It is considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Maya culture, along with Palenque, Chichén Itzá, and Calakmul in Mexico, Caracol and Xunantunich in Belize, and Tikal in Guatemala. It is located in the Puuc region and is considered one of the Maya cities most representative of the region's dominant architectural style. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its significance in 1996.
It is located 62 km to the south of Merida. Its buildings are noted for their size and decoration. They are typical of the Riley Kand Puuc style, with smooth low walls that open on ornate friezes based on representations of typical Maya huts. These are represented by columns (representing the reeds used for the walls of the huts) and trapezoidal shapes (representing the thatched roofs). Ancient roads called sacbés connect the buildings, and they were also built to other cities in the area such as the ones mentioned above. The present name seems to derive from Oxmal, meaning "three times built". This seems to refer to the site's antiquity and the times it had to rebuild. The etymology is disputed; another possibility is Uchmal which means "what is to come, the future." By tradition, this was supposed to be an "invisible city," built in one night by the magic of the dwarf king.
La Casa del Adivino o del Enano (a.k.a. the Pyramid of the Magician or the Pyramid of the Dwarf) is a stepped pyramid structure, unusual among Maya structures in that its layers' outlines are oval or elliptical in shape, instead of the more common rectilinear plan. It was a common practice in Mesoamerica to build new temple pyramids atop older ones, but here a newer pyramid was built centered slightly to the east of the older pyramid, so that on the west side the temple atop the old pyramid is preserved, with the newer temple above it. In addition, the western staircase of the pyramid is situated so that it faces the setting sun on the summer solstice.
The structure is featured in one of the best-known tales of Yucatecan Maya folklore, "El Enano del Uxmal" (The Dwarf of Uxmal), which is also the basis for the structure's common name.
The exact height of the Pyramid of the Magician is in dispute and has been reported as tall as 40 metres (131 feet) and as low as 27.6 metres (90.5 feet). The accepted median height is 35 metres (115 feet), with the base measuring approximately 69 by 49 metres (227 by 162 feet). Despite the absence of an exact measurement, the pyramid remains the tallest structure at Uxmal.
The building of the pyramid was completed in several phases, over three centuries during the Terminal Classic Period, between the eighth and the eleventh centuries. A total of five constructive phases have been detected so far and it is possible to find others during the new archaeological explorations.
The Pyramid of the Magician is the most distinctive Mayan structure on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The haciendas in Yucatan were farming organizations that appeared between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century, despite what happened in the rest of Mexico and most of the Hispanic America, where these farms were established almost immediately after the conquest and during the seventeenth century. They were farming and manufacturing centers that produced meat, produce, and other products for export. Over time, haciendas became symbols of wealth and culture, adorned with architecture, furnishings and art from around the world.
Most Yucatan haciendas in the nineteenth century produced rope from henequen, a variety of the agave cactus. The region that is neighboring and close to Merida was where the first corn and henequen-producing haciendas were established. And inside the city, many of them are still preserved and have been completely rebuilt and re-opened as museums, hotels, tourist destinations and social events halls.
- Website of the Secretary of Tourism Promotion (Secretaría de Fomento Turístico - SEFOTUR): http://www.sefotur.yucatan.gob.mx
- Website of Yucatán Travel, SEFOTUR: http://yucatan.travel/centrohistorico
- Wikipedia online encyclopedia:
- Website of the Chichen Itzá Archaeological Zone (Zona Arqueológica de Chichen Itzá): http://www.chichenitza.inah.gob.mx/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9&Itemid=8
- Website of the Government of the State of Yucatan (Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán 2012-2018): http://www.yucatan.gob.mx
- Website of the Office of Tourism and Economic Promotion of the city of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico (Dirección de Turismo y Promoción Económica del Ayuntamiento de Mérida, Yucatán, México):
- Website Yucatan Living: