Saturday, January 2, 2016

Merida White city and Izamal City of Magic

As so many things in life do, our latest adventure began with an off- hand comment.  "I am one of twelve brothers and sisters, we are all living thanks God. I used to work with my father in his restaurant in Merida,".  This comment was made over margaritas after a morning tour of the archaeological site, Tulum in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I visited the site with my family and tour guide December 30, 2014.  The speaker was my friend and escort David Celis.  As the rest of my family chatted and gossiped, David and I had been catching up since my last visit in 2012.  The word, "Merida" made my ears perk up.  "You mean the Spanish colonial city", "Si".  "You really grew up there". "Si, met my wife there, got married there".  "I have always wanted to see...".  "...we should go some time and I will show you around".  Friends as I have mentioned before, I know the value of a good guide, especially a local from the area.  So that's how we happened to be on the brand new toll road between Cancun and Merida, almost exactly a year to the day of our conversation, hurtling along in the predawn light to so that we could make the four hour trip, spend some time in Merida and return to our resort in Puerto Morales, Mexico by nightfall.
Pam and David Ceklis Plaza Grande

Merida is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan (the state sharing its name with the peninsula of the same name).  Merida's modern history begins in 1542 with three Spanish conquistadores named Francisco Montejo( father, son and nephew all sharing the same name)  'conquering' the local Mayan tribe (it wasn't much of a conquer. Mayan legend foretold of gods who were white that were larger than men. Spanish conquistadores in their silver armor and horses fit the bill, So the Mayans just handed over all they had). Merida skillfully blends the masculine Spanish style with the bold colors of Mexico,   Lighting from the van, at the city's  Plaza Grande, David knowing our interest in both architecture and history, lead us around the historical square. Merida's nickname Ciudad Blanca(white city) origin today is unknown as the city is a blaze of color.  From the sage green and white Palace de Governale, (the seat of government for the state),  the town hall and the theater (now gallery and retail space) Picheta and  museum Casa de Montejo ,  the old buildings and especially Casa de Montejo did not disappoint.

In its glory days the home of the Montejo family dominated the square, occupying one half of the entire square. As the family dwindled so did its fortunes, and today the museum is only small part of the original home.  The effect remains of stepping of the busy street and side walk into a lovely courtyard where the street sounds magically disappear.  A small salon, dining room and solarium are all that are open to the public. What sets this home apart from other museums, everything is original. From the wallpaper to the furniture and décor, all belonged to family and were used in their every day life,

Casa de Montejo

Crossing the square we ended our visit to the historical center with the oldest building - El Cathedral de San Ilphonse ,  Built in the middle 1500s, you would expect the church to be dark like others of its time period.  We marveled at how bright the interior was.  Made out of local limestone, the interior glowed in the natural colors of white, gray and beige. 

Our Merida visit ended with lunch at a restaurant that featured traditional Yucatan cuisine.  Los Almendros ' menu had many delicacies , we enjoyed Salbutes (fried corn tortillas topped with lettuce, red onion and shredded turkey) Pollo Ticuleno (breaded chicken topped with ham, cheese, peas and tomato sauce on a tortilla) as well as Poc Choc, pork prepared by burying it in the ground in a clay pot, a thousand year old Mayan recipe.

City steps of Izamal
Post lunch we made a quick side trip to Izamal and its Benedictine monastery.  The Mexican government has decreed Izamal to be a 'Magic City', there are 35 cities in Mexico with this distinction and Izamal is one of only two in the Yucatan.  (A 'Magic city" is a small historical town that is located near a major historical site with good road access and a willingness of the population to support the project.)Winding in through its narrow streets , the town suddenly opens up to a large central square.  The most surprising thing is the entire town is painted a mustard gold or as David so aptly described 'ochre'.  The color makes all the natural wood and iron details stand out.  Trimmed in white and crimson red the effect is dazzling and I was just enchanted.  Climbing the many steps to the monastery, the town was laid out before us.  The cathedral itself is currently shrouded in scaffolding as the monstarery needs major structural and aesthetic repairs.  We quickly saw the interior and decided we would need to return to this beautiful pueblo on a future visit.
Izamal's ochre colored buildings

Returning 13 hours after our departure, we saw the last of the Mexican sun on the sand and waves.  As much as I love Mexico's beaches and margaritas its history and culture are so much more.  I am always glad to take at least one day away from sun and fun to find the 'real' Mexico.

Merida archaeological museum - former Colonial home

Merida City Hall

Izamal monastery
Merida Cathedral of Ilphonse

Christmas tree in the Palace of Government

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