Postcard from Merida, Mexico: Along Paseo de Montejo

Above: Crumbling stucco lends a painterly appearance to a row of balconied apartments off Paseo de Montejo.

The wide boulevard of Paseo de Montejo invites ambling with its row of elegant residences, in varying condition, built during Merida’s henequen boom (see earlier post on La Quinta Montes Molina). The street really comes to life when it is closed to automobile traffic on some weekends to allow what seems like all the families in Merida to safely hop upon their bicycles.

Palacio Canton was completed more than a century ago for General Francisco Canton Rosado (1833-1917), a governor of Yucatan who owned profitable henequen haciendas and railroads during the Porfiriato period. Now the building houses the Regional Museum of Anthropology, showcasing a collection of Mayan artifacts, including some from Mayapan (earlier post).

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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. Continue reading “Postcard from Merida, Mexico: Mayan gods molded man from masa”

Postcard from Edzna, Campeche, Mexico: Wandering amidst ancient Mayan ruins without the crowds

As incredible as the extensive ruins of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan are, the experience of visiting them is somewhat spoiled. The site is overrun by hundreds of stalls of vendors and swarmed by busloads of tourists.

But there is another spot to visit the Mayan home of the Itza family – Edzna, less than an hour outside of Campeche. Edzna means the House of Itzas, so named because the Itzas lived here before setting up quarters at Chichen Itza. At Edzna, one has to wait around for a while for someone to walk into the camera frame to provide a sense of scale. There were maybe five cars in the parking area.

Construction on the site began around 600 B.C., with the ancient Mayan city expanding to close to ten square miles at its peak of power. The satellite image plucked from Google maps illustrates the small portion of that territory that has been excavated.

The site particularly is noteworthy for its sophisticated system for capturing, storing and distributing rainwater. Hieroglyphics at the foot of its main structure, Edifico de los Cinco Pisos, trace its construction to 652, but additions and alterations were made up until the 14th century. From the base to the top of its comb, similar to toppings at Palenque, the structure measures more than 100 feet high.

Although Edzna was occupied until the 15th century, it was not rediscovered until 1907. Excavation began in 1958, with much of the caretaking services in recent years provided by Guatemalan refugees under the watchful eyes of the resident iguanas.