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Sunday, December 4, 2022

El Campestre, from countryside retreat to a thriving neighborhood in Mérida’s north

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Large iron gates and high walls conceal the grandeur of many, but not all, of the homes in what was once one of Mérida’s most exclusive neighborhoods, Fraccionamiento Campestre. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The area today known as Fraccionamiento Campestre has its origins in the 1940s, but its development didn’t begin in earnest until the 1950s.

The purpose of the then-out-of-town community is hinted at in its name “Campestre,” which translates as countryside or rural.

The area was originally envisioned for the city’s elite as an escape from the hustle and bustle of Mérida.

Fraccionamiento Campestre was never meant to be that large, being only a few blocks across. Office Depot now stands at its southern end and Montejo’s Krispy Kreme is just beyond its northern boundary past the country club. Photo: Google Maps

A big part of Fraccionamiento Campestre’s image was connected with the establishment of the Campestre Country Club in the 1950s.

Aside from its baseball field, tennis courts, and other sports facilities, the Club Campestre became known for holding exclusive social events like Carnaval celebrations and debutante balls. 

Debutante balls have come under heavy criticism, but the tradition still holds and is considered a major social event in Mérida, although admittance is tightly controlled. Photo: Courtesy Diario de Yucatán

As more and more affluent families decided to either move out to Fraccionamiento Campestre or build weekend chateaus, the architecture of the area really began to come into its own.

Several homes from this era in Fraccionamiento Campestre have large exterior walls to safeguard the privacy of its residents. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Because many of these were second homes, the area also developed a bit of a reputation for being the kind of place wealthy men would set up their “casa chica.” This term literally means small house — which is a traditional way to refer to one’s second or illegitimate household. 

But as the neighborhood continued to grow in popularity during the 1960s, larger and more elaborate homes began to pop up.

One of the most iconic homes from this era is the Moorish-influenced casona on the corner of Avenida Campestre and Calle 5.

With its grand entrance lined by horseshoe arches and ample garden towered over by large palm trees, this grand Campestre home truly makes an impression. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Moorish architecture became quite fashionable in Yucatán during the 19th and 20th centuries, and several other examples of this style can be seen around town. The most famous example is the aptly named Casa Morisca, in Mérida’s Centro on the corner of Calle 51 and 53.

The horseshoe arch motif of this impressive Casona is also closely emulated on the home’s many windows that stretch nearly from floor to ceiling. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But as Mérida continued to grow, by the 1980s, Fraccionamiento Campestre had lost its rural charm and had been engulfed by Mérida’s growing urban sprawl. 

A recent photo of Avenida Campestre with the once out-of-the-way country club completely surrounded by traffic and businesses of all kinds — not exactly pastoral. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

As a consequence, many families decided to move out and sell their homes, many of which today are businesses. 

Elaborate stonework likely dating to the mid-20th century now frames the entrance to a bakery on Avenida Campestre. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The main public square in Fraccionamiento Campestre is the San Juanistas Park, which also houses a Catholic church that also dates to the foundation of the neighborhood. 

A monument dedicated to the San Juanistas, a group of free thinkers who espoused the virtues of the enlightenment philosophy on the eve of Mexico’s struggle for independence from Spain. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though most of the homes and businesses in the Campestre are in relatively good shape, it is not unusual to come across old homes for sale which have obviously been abandoned for a good deal of time. 

The splendor of many of the areas’ homes continues to shine through despite years of neglect and being surrounded by rubbish. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But it’s not like Campestre has suddenly become an undesirable place to live. On the contrary, its location in Mérida’s north (or now more like north-ish) and easy connectivity with Prolongacion Paseo de Montejo and Calle 60 means that getting from Campestre to most of Mérida’s hotspots is quite easy indeed. 

The area is also home to several cafés, bakeries, liquor stores, restaurants, and pizza joints, all within walking distance. 

Another nice aspect of Campestre is all the old trees that line the avenue and offer a good deal of shade, not unlike García Ginerés. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
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