One of the Twin Mansions becomes a private museum

The great hall is built with carrera mable columns and side supports shipped from Italy. Photo: Susan Malkemus White
  • One of Mérida's famous Twin Mansions on the Paseo de Montejo. Photo: Yucatán Magazine

Nearly 110 years after it was built, the public is invited to see inside one of Mérida’s palacial Casas Cámara, also known as the Casas Gemelas or Twin Houses.

Montejo 495 Casa Museo, which is the house on the left if you are viewing them from the Paseo, is a giant time capsule containing vestiges of Yucatán’s golden age. The home’s artwork and fine furnishings, including a grand chandelier that was the first in Yucatán to be wired electrically, are displayed throughout.

While the upper floors are still private residences, the museum space has plenty of marble-clad rooms on the first floor. Surrounding a grand reception hall is a set of ornate French-style parlors on the left, followed by a magnificent dining room on the right, a billiards room and cozy, lush library. Each room has a docent, speaking in both Spanish and English, to give the rooms context.

Since it was built in 1911, when henequen plantations still funded mansions up and down Mérida’s grand boulevard, the French-style mansion has been owned by only two families: The Cámara Zavala family that built it, and then in 1964 by the Barbachano Herrero family.

Three generations of Barbachanos were early pioneers in Yucatán tourism, and owned the Chichén Itzá archaeological site from 1944 until the government expropriated it in 2010. Family members owned numerous hotels, including the landmark Mayaland resort, and still have several properties such as Casa del Balam, which created the groundwork for a regional tourist economy.

Maruja Barbachano Herrero — who grew up in the mansion and still resides on the upper floors — didn’t want the home to become office space, which happened to so many other grand residences on the boulevard. As early as 2014, she suggested the home could be a museum of the Porfiriato era.

Montejo 495 Casa Museo
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday-Sunday
General admission: 250 pesos (50 pesos more to take photography); with state identification, 125 pesos. INAPAM, students and children under 12, 50 pesos; free entry for children under 3.

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