Merida, Yucatan. The White City
Merida is the capital and largest city in Yucatan state and the cultural and financial capital of the region. It’s a modern, cosmopolitan city with museums, art galleries, restaurants, shops, and boutiques. A major center of commerce, Merida Yucatan is considered the crossroads of the region and one of the most important places to experience the Mayan heritage.
Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo “el Mozo” (the son), and built on the site of the ancient Maya city T’ho, meaning “city of five hills.” T’ho was the center of Mayan culture and activity in the Yucatan region. After the arrival of the Spanish, the ancient city’s five main pyramids were destroyed and their ruins used in the construction of Merida’s cathedral and other important buildings.
Merida was built as a walled city and several of the old Spanish city gates remain. The city boasts the second-largest historic center in Mexico; only Mexico City’s historic center is larger. Mérida gets its nickname, La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), from the predominance of white limestone that was used as a building material; although locals today will tell you that it also has to do with the cleanliness of the city’s streets and public areas, not to mention how safe is Merida, Mexico.
As a result of its unique geographic location, strong Spanish influence and isolation from other parts of Mexico, Merida developed a distinct cultural and political identity. The unique culture and traditions that you’ll experience when you travel to Merida, Mexico are overwhelmingly apparent in the local dress, language, cuisine and the observance of holidays and celebrations.
Not only is Spanish spoken with a distinct accent in Yucatan, but Yucatecan Maya is spoken by one third of the population of Yucatan state. The cuisine in Merida Yucatan is also distinct in that it differs from traditional Mexican cuisine and is representative of the local indigenous culture and the Caribbean, Mexican, European and Middle Eastern influences in the region.
The traditional music and dance of Yucatan is known as Vaqueria Regional. It plays an important role in the Vaquerías Feast which was originally associated with the branding of cattle on Yucatecan haciendas. You can catch weekly performances in Merida’s central plaza.
Chances are that you’ll spend at least part of your Yucatán vacation shopping for handicrafts. Merida is famous for the guayabera, a loose fitting men’s shirt with tucks and pockets. Traditional guayaberas are white, made from cotton or linen and often embroidered. Here you’ll also find hipiles, dresses or tunics worn by the indigenous women of the region. Hipiles are often white with colorful embroidered designs that traditionally convey some sort of meaning within the local community.
Or perhaps you’ll choose to spend part of your Yucatán vacation relaxing in a hammock. The hammocks that you’ll find in Mérida, Yucatán are of a high quality and made from cotton string that’s woven into a fine mesh. They’re extremely popular and commonly used throughout the region.
Finally, explore more of the Yucatán region when you travel to Mérida, Mexico with visits to nearby towns, Mayan ruins and cenotes (underwater sinkholes).