The best way to see a city is on foot, and Mérida is no exception, especially in the downtown or Centro area. Walking, not only can you interact with locals; you’ll also see, hear and even smell things you can’t from a car.
In this article, my aim is to take a walk around one of those blocks that might not immediately appear on your radar. We’ll walk from the main square along Calle 60, turning onto 65 and coming back onto the square along 62, with careful attention to detail to fully appreciate everything!
Start at the northwest corner of the intersection of 63 and 60 streets. In front of us, a beautiful nameless mansion (next to the Montejo house with its amazing façade). It looks well-maintained until you realize that the plants on the balconies are actually weeds and trees and that a huge chunk of the plaster has broken off. Hopefully no one was injured when that happened! The MACAY museum is on your left, across the street.
We are going south on Calle 60. Cross the street carefully, traffic lights are there for cars, not pedestrians, so just follow the traffic cop’s instructions or what the locals do if the cop is on a break. When in doubt, make eye contact with the drivers of the cars and run.
Once across the street, be careful at the corner as the newsstand spills onto the sidewalk causing a pedestrian bottleneck. After just a few steps, you’ll reach the wide-open entrance of the Optima clothing store. Pause and get out of the way of others. You’ll notice no doors and feel a refreshing air-conditioned breeze pouring welcomingly out into the Mérida heat, encouraging potential shoppers to come in, cool down, and – why not – buy a t-shirt or pair of shorts. What I want you to do is to look across the street and up.
The building you see in front of you is the Edificio Gómez. Do you see the sign at the very top? Also notice the pretty art deco façade. At street level, the Coppel/Canada shoe store, some other shops, and at the end of that building is La Mayuquita, a well-known Yucatecan bakery serving up hot Pan Francés and Tutis since 1940. To the immediate left of the bakery is a mysterious gray metal door with some pretty plants worked into the metal. There is a buzzer, but no indication of what’s inside. I did not buzz.
Continue south. While walking (and this applies to any street in Mérida’s Centro) be aware of power meters jutting out of walls at head level along with the occasional old fashioned air conditioner and its metal frame. A chance violent encounter with such an object will ruin your day.
A few short steps again from the bakery, you will see on your left a pedestrian shopping street; called the Pasaje Emilio Seijo. Who is this Emilio Seijo you ask? He was a Spanish-born businessman who came to Mérida at a very young age and made a name for himself thanks to several successful businesses which gave him the opportunity to also be a philanthropist. For the latter he is remembered fondly and thus, has this street named after him.
Besides the McDonald’s on the right side of the street and the interestingly-named SexyLust store selling – not sensual toys – but all manner of potentially toxic makeup, there is little to notice up on the corner of Calle 65. Mostly clothing and accessories stores, all of which have set up large speakers and all are playing ear-splitting music of the reggaeton and cumbia variety. You have arrived at the corner of 60 and 65. Turn right here.
You are walking west, on 65. On your right, the Centro Joyero, a collection of indoor stalls selling jewelry, mostly silver and gold. The real stuff. There is also a currency counter inside to exchange your dollars (Canadian or US) for pesos, at a decent rate.
On your left, a beautiful two-story 1900’s mansion has survived the destructive advance of “progress” that eliminated many classic buildings leaving unattractive modern constructions (modern in the 1950’s and 60’s) in their places. You will see these along this stretch of street also.
The above-mentioned colonial mansion is now a Suburbia store, jam-packed with clothing for the whole family. Inside, you can make out the central patio, now covered by a hard plastic roof, and the second-floor balcony stretching around it. Take the stairs to the second floor, ostensibly to look at mattresses as this is where they are displayed in large stacks. Looking down, imagine what the house was like, inhabited, furnished, with paintings on the walls and full of servants to sweep all that floor space.
Outside again and directly across the street, you will see a dark brown building that can only be described as aesthetically-challenging. It has a somewhat triangular shape that contrasts completely with anything nearby, including the glass and metal four-story rectangle monolith that has been quite literally “smooshed” into the space it occupies. Housing a Chinese merchandise store and a Banamex/Citibank bank and ATM, the space behind it is actually a visually pleasing parking lot complete with trees, for the exclusive use of bank customers. A Banorte bank and ATM with its customary lineup of clients (more so now with the pandemic and social distancing) completes the picture.
Notice too that across from the Banorte ATM, is an empty building that has been closed now for some time. As it features a spacious entryway, two Mestizas donning Huipiles sell colorful hammocks and related items alongside peanuts and homemade candies.
Proceeding to the intersection of Calle 65 where it meets 62, you will see that it features original façades on three of the four corners. Looking up, on one corner is a cream-colored two-story mansion with impressive faces in stucco looming over each window. Opposite and still on 65, the exception to the pretty façades with another glass and steel contraption, housing a branch of Foto Guido, which is a classic stop for your passport and visa photos. If you are Yucatecan and have traveled abroad, you have probably had your passport photo taken at one of the many Guido shops around Mérida.
On the NW corner, another mansion, this one decidedly not restored or maintained. Looking over the main entrance on 62, you can see in old-fashioned lettering, the words Hotel Sevilla. Gazing down at the entrance you will see it also stamped into the floor. The wooden doors have lost a panel or two and if you pull aside the plastic (which is loose, you’re not breaking anything) you can peek inside and see what was once the lobby. Poke your camera in and take a few shots – notice the scaffolding holding the second floor in place.
For photos and unintentionally humorous descriptions: www.meridayucatanrealestate.com/advanced-search/hotel-sevilla/
From the Hotel Sevilla, the entrance to the cream-colored building from before is now in front of you. Take a moment to look at the wrought ironwork protecting the entryway. Very pretty. More faces over the windows above.
As you continue north along 62 back towards the main square, there are a few more two-story mansions on the left side and little of the original buildings on the right. At the corner of 63 and 62 Is the building known as Casa los Ladrillos. Ladrillos are bricks in Spanish. See if you can understand why it was given that name. The house dates back to the Montejos and was at one time owned by the Cárdenas and then the Peón families. Today the house is known mostly for its brick reference, but some older folks know it as Casa Cárdenas. It houses a market-like selection of little shops and stands, selling everything from candles and esoteric supplies to jewelry and clothing. Now, during the pandemic, the shopping is limited and most of the shops are abandoned.
Interestingly, under this building, in a parking lot that can be accessed by car or on foot, just off to the left on 63 as you approach the Plaza Grande, are a series of tunnels that some say connect this corner with the Cathedral. Others say they are simply storage areas for the building or perhaps were the beginnings of a waste water drainage system from long ago.
Back in the main square, you have now completed your walk around the block!
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Author of Modern Yucatan Dictionary
Founder of Mayan Xic
Director of Lawson’s Original Yucatán Excursions
Photography by Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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