Saturday, February 21, 2015

MERIDA - POST #2

THE CITY
Lets start out with a little history. It all began with a very large meteor sixty-five million years ago that smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula turning it into mush. Many, many years later the mush began to harden forming a crust over the crater kind of like a very flat pie, but the mush underneath the crust bubbled and set forming a whole series of underground rivers and lakes. Every so often there's a fissure like a fork prick in the crust revealing one of these underground water features. They call these holes cenote; we call them sinkholes.
Now moving forward many millions of years and here enter a bunch of early civilizations culminating in the Mayans. These are the people most associated with the area known as the Yucatan. Without any surface water or any really good soil for growing crops the Mayans somehow managed to build one of the world's most advanced cultures ever seen. They developed writing, architecture, mathematics and a refined calendar. They were extremely smart in an Egyptian dynasty kind of way. They had their intelligence but they also developed some pretty odd beliefs.
Then along came the Europeans, mostly the Spaniards. The Spaniards came with a mission to change these heathens to god fearing Catholics. After pillaging and sacking the poor little Mayans the Spaniards destroyed anything and everything that had to do with the Mayan's quirky beliefs.
In order to show the Mayans just how powerful their Catholic religion was the Spaniards tore apart the Mayan's most sacred cite, the city of T'ho, and rebuilt it in their image using the sacred stones of the the Mayan temples and pyramids to build their own homes and the cities main Cathedral.
They renamed the Mayan city of T'ho. They called it Merida after their hometown in Spain.
For many the destruction of the Mayan monuments made it seem as if the Mayan culture had become a lost culture but in actuality the Mayans never disappeared.
In fact, sixty percent of the current Merida population is of Mayan decent. You can see it in the faces of many of the people walking the streets of Merida selling their wares in the city markets.
With the conquering Spanish Merida quickly became the financial and cultural center of the Yucatan and became the capital city of the state of Yucatan. In 2010 the population of Merida was listed as just shy of a million people.
The financial rise of Merida came from an unlikely source since the Yucatan is basically a water free peninsula. The one crop that the Spanish were able to cultivate is something they call henequen. It looks a lot like a aloe plant only much bigger. If you peel apart the spikes inside is a very stringy, very strong fiber we call sisal. It's used to manufacture among other things rope. This became a billion dollar industry leaving Merida with the largest concentration of millionaires in the world for a very short time until some entrepreneur developed nylon.
Building boomed. Since there was no real wood source most everything in Merida is made from limestone that appears to exist in an unending supply.
This has given speculation to one of the reasons why Merida was given the title, "The White City". Virtually every building built in Merida is built of this white limestone.
Another theory on the nickname, "The White City" is that the streets are supposedly cleaned twice a day therefore leaving it white clean. Neither of these ring true with me. The city is far from white or clean.
If you walk the streets of Merida it is more like walking through a candy shop filled with every flavor of jellybeans.
It's a color riot out there.
The facades of residences and businesses alike are painted and trimmed out in a delicious range of candy-coated walls.
Owners seemed in competition with their neighbors to see who could concoct the most whimsical
or ostentatiously colorful fa├žade.
All the buildings of Merida are built curbside leaving only a sliver of sidewalk, there's no such thing as a front lawn and thankfully so since if they did exist they would most likely be filled with ornamental pink flamingos and Mayan leprechauns.
If a visually white city is what you're looking for you best head towards Mykonos or Santorini.
Cleanliness is another point I'd have to argue. City government hasn't found a way to upgrade its infrastructure since the Spaniards tore down the Mayan temples.
A great deal of walking time around Merida needs to be devoted to watching your feet. Sidewalks can change from twenty-four inches wide to barely more than foot without warning. In front of one residence the sidewalks can climb six inches and then crumble into dust and chunks of stone in an instance. Stubbed toes and skinned knees are an inevitable detriment to sightseeing in Merida.
Every Meridian will rave about how safe their city is in comparison to almost everywhere else in Mexico but there still remains a touch of the third world here and the bars on every window are a little disconcerting.
So we're trying to make the best of it and Merida certainly has its brilliant side.
Every color and hue finds a home here on the streets of Merida and it's been a definite respite from the winter chill up north.
So we'll keep looking on the brighter warmer side of the city they call "The White City".

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