Barrio de San Juan / San Juan neighborhood

In our continuing series featuring the unique homes and neighborhoods of Mérida, Yucatán, we are proud to present Barrio de San Juan / San Juan neighborhood. Our host is Keith Heitke, a senior sales agent for Mexico International Real Estate.

Each video episode on our website features a different residential neighborhood of this interesting and beautiful city, focusing on a home which exemplifies the best of that neighborhood. While we’ll give you lots of great footage and design ideas, we hope it only whets your appetite to see more, and of course nothing beats experiencing these amazing homes in person.

If you would like to savor the details about the neighborhood of San Juan, and the house itself, scroll down for a written summary. And if you would like to post a comment, you can do so at the end of the article.

Now, let’s have a look!

The San Juan neighborhood is part of Mérida’s Centro Histórico, or historic district.

Founded in 1542, Centro is the oldest part of the city and is characterized by ancient churches, charming parks and many quaint neighborhoods, known as “barrios”. San Juan is just one such neighborhood.

The Barrio of San Juan is rich in history. It was here that certain events triggered the movement toward Mexico’s Independence from Spain. And it was “the” place to live, up until the wealthy began migrating a bit north of here to the new French-style boulevard, Paseo de Montejo.

The beautiful arch, built in 1690, marks the beginning of the “royal road” to Campeche. Originally, one passed under an arch like this to get into or out of Mérida. Travelers would stop at the churches in this neighborhood to pray for a safe journey.

The church was built around 1770, and the fountain sculpture in the park was brought from France in the early 1900s. The park has just undergone a costly remodel, part of the ongoing restoration the city is doing to its old parks, neighborhoods, and buildings. San Juan park even has WiFi now!

There are quite a few old colonial homes in the San Juan area, but many on the square have been converted to commercial buildings because of their vast size. Just a few blocks from San Juan park is the home featured in this video.

And now, for those of you who would like to read about this wonderful house:

Sala / Living room

As you see, the scale of these old colonial homes is dramatic, to say the least. In this case the ceilings are about 18’ high, which is very typical of homes in the historic district. This helped keep rooms cool in a tropical environment.

What look like black painted stripes in the ceiling are actually iron beams holding up a thick cement and stone roof.

The first room – a formal living room – would have been the most important room in the house. This is where you would entertain friends and visitors.

This house was built in 1849 – a period when there were more millionaires per capita living in Mérida than anywhere else in the world.

It is a period that corresponds to the Victorian era in Europe and is characterized by ornate detail and heavy furnishings – a style the owners chose to maintain.

Mampostería / Stone rubble and cement construction

Here you can get an idea of how thick these walls are… That is because they are made of tons of stacked stones held together with cement.

This kind of construction is known as “Mampostería” in Spanish, and was also the way the Maya people built their pyramids. All colonial homes in this neighborhood were built the same way – another plus in keeping the house cool.

Mosaico de Pasta / Colored cement floor tiles

What you’re seeing here is “pasta” tile floors, also known as “mosaico de pasta” or “French pasta.” You’ll hear that term over and over in Mérida. Pasta tiles originally arrived here as ballast on ships from France. Pasta simply means “paste” which refers to the colored cement from which they’re made.

A metal mold something like a cookie cutter is used to make the almost infinite number of patterns that you’ll see all over the Centro Histórico. The floors get their sheen from a gentle buffing after the tiles are laid.

Comedor / Dining room

This is a beautiful mural which was hand painted by a local artist. It is a depiction of the main square of the Centro Histórico, and it shows scenes of typical daily life. It’s really something – a work of art – and definitely enlivens this dining room.

Cocina / Kitchen

This is quite a special kitchen today, but was originally just another big room in the house. When the owners decided to make this room the kitchen, all of the plumbing and electricity had to be added during the remodel. This room also has 18 foot tall ceilings and pasta tile floors.

Azulejos de Talavera / Hand-painted tiles from central Mexico

But a truly special feature is the Talavera tiles from central Mexico, used for the counters and backsplashes and even on the walls. Local tropical cedar forms the upper cabinets that were designed in an Andalusian style.

Croquis colonial / Typical colonial floor plan

Most of the colonial houses in Centro Histórico take one of two basic forms: an L or a C shape. Both plans allow the inner rooms to open onto a central courtyard for air circulation. Rooms butt end to end almost like a submarine.

Enfilade / from ‘To thread’ (Fr.); To run from end to end

Each section can be closed for complete privacy, or if you are home alone you can open it all up for ventilation, illustrating a beautiful enfilade, very typical of these old homes.

Generally there aren’t any hallways in most of these old houses, so you just use the outdoors to pass from room to room. We don’t have cold weather so all the rooms face out to the courtyard.

Recámara / Bedroom

This guest room features the high ceilings and fine details of the rest of the house, all looking out onto the garden and pool.

This doorway, you can see, looks exactly like the doorways in the main part of the house. These were all made new when the owners restored this house. They’ve used the same sort of detail, and these are all solid cedar, really beautifully done.

And again in this room we have more pasta tile floors. Tiles in this part of the house were damaged, so these are new ones made by the same local manufacturer who made those in the rest of the house over 150 years ago!

Baño / Bathroom

Beautiful hand-carved stone sinks are a prominent feature of this bathroom. And on a more practical note, one of the things the owners did was to add a couple of walls that don’t go all the way to the ceiling. This allows a lot of air-flow through the bathroom and also in this large walk-in closet – important in this humid tropical climate.

Jardín y Terraza / Garden and Terrace

The gardens and terraces of homes in Centro Histórico are where owners spend most of their time nowadays.

But in the past, this backyard was just a service yard. If you can imagine, the owners would never have entered the backyard – and for good reason. Cooking and bathroom functions were all kept outdoors. And here was also a good place to keep your horses and chickens! But nowadays, when these old colonial homes are restored, owners generally opt to install lavish pools and landscaping.

Click here to see the rest of the videos in Keith’s series.


In our continuing series featuring the unique homes and neighborhoods of Merida, Yucatan, we are proud to present Barrio de San Juan / San Juan neighborhood.

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