After disaster in Brazil, how are Merida’s museums protected?

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Merida’s museums, most of them established in historic buildings, are very modern in one way: their security measures.

The Museum of the City of Mérida, for example, was built in 1908 to house telegraph offices, post offices and courts. 

Today, the institution has a five-step plan to protect its treasures from fire, theft, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes.

A team of 15 people are trained to respond to a variety of threats at the museum.

The topic was the focus of an exhaustive package of stories in Sunday’s Novedades Yucatan (a city broadsheet that until two weeks ago was the Milenio Novedades tabloid).

The story comes in the context of the disastrous fire at the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which in September destroyed priceless exhibition pieces housed in a former imperial palace.

Merida’s treasures are also housed in historic buildings, including a governor’s palace and the Athenaeum adjacent to the Cathedral. Officials assured the public that they are acting aggressively to prevent a travesty like Brazil’s.

In the case of the Museum of the City, located in a building constructed during the Porfiriato, municipal Culture Director Irving Berlín Villafaña, indicated that security adheres to international standards. A combination of fire-control equipment, motion sensors and surveillance cameras provide 24-hour vigilance, he said.

Brazil’s fire followed austerity cuts which hampered security. But in Merida, he said, the city is still spending as needed to protect art and artifacts.

The MACAY/Fernando García Ponce Museum has an internal Civil Protection committee that works with the same protocols, where the surveillance staff is trained twice a year, and has 32 fire extinguishers.

The building was designed and built by engineer Salvador Echegaray, in neoclassical style with touches of French and fine finishes of floor, wall and chancel.

One of the most beautiful buildings in the city, the Canton Palace, was built between 1904 to 1911. It is an eclectic French, Baroque and Neoclassical mansion. The details of the interior are by sculptor Michele Giacomino; the project was developed by the architect Enrico Deserti, who also directed, at the same time, the construction of the Peón Contreras theater. Its construction supervised by Manuel G. Cantón Ramos, the nephew of General Francisco Cantón, a former Yucatan governor, who lived there.

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