Postcard from Merida, Mexico: Mayan gods molded man from masa

An engraving by Fernando Castro Pacheco illustrates the importance of corn to Mayans in a book by Alfredo Barrera Vasquez, Poema en Cinco Puntos Cardinales, published in Merida in 1976.

According to ancient beliefs rooted in the Yucatan, Mayan gods created a world full of plants and animals yet still felt unfulfilled. Their egos required more. They yearned for creatures capable of worshipping them, offering them tributes they craved. Like chocolate.

After attempts with other materials, the gods settled on corn, corn mixed with water and perhaps a bit of their own blood. So the first four men were formed from ground kernels of white corn and the women from yellow. Man not only was created from corn; he became dependent on corn as the cornerstone of his diet. Fortunately, there was a deity for that – Hun Nal Yeh, the god of corn.

So it is only natural that the critical role of corn in the world of the ancient Mayan and Mexico today is heralded in El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya of Merida. The ambitious museum opened in 2010 to serve as a major repository for some of the archaeological treasures found throughout the Yucatan – in the state where they were created instead of Mexico City.

The enormous facility – almost 250,000 square feet – is the product of 4A Arquitectos, and the rationale behind the design is explained on Arch201:

The Gran Museo del Mundo Maya by 4A Arquitectos located in Mérida, Yucantán, Mexico, follows a key element in the cosmic vision of Mayan Culture known as Ceiba. The basic principles behind this belief are that the sacred tree’s roots penetrate and confirm the underworld, the trunk’s level lays down where life and daily activities take place, and it’s frond branches up to represent human transcendence. This contemporary design gives physical bearing to Ceiba in order to form the museum.

Parking and collection research areas are at the roots of the tree; the trunk contains the lobby and exhibition areas; and the core at the center of the building is sheltered under the ceiba’s branches. The museum has more than ample space to grow and host major temporary exhibitions. Adjoining the new convention center, it also features stunning spaces, both indoors and out, suitable for companion receptions.

For the average tourist though, the location is so far out Avenida Paseo de Montejo from the historic center that there actually is a Costco nearby. The Gran Museo definitely is worth the price of summoning an Uber driver, but the location seems unnecessarily remote from the heart of the city and the majority of its citizens. What were the gods thinking when they let their sacred “ceiba” take root there?

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