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Pasaje Picheta slowly begins to re-open during renovations

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Murals evoke old-Mérida life at the Pasaje Picheta. Visitors may discover if they have survived renovations as parts of the shopping arcade open this week. Photo: Facebook

Mérida, Yucatán — At least another four months of renovation work awaits the Pasaje Picheta, but some shops will be able to re-open this week.

The modest shopping arcade adjacent to the Government Palace is easy to overlook. Embellished with colorful murals depicting old-Mérida life, its corridors are accessed by the colonnade at Calle 61 near 60.

The building is among the most historic in a city filled with history.

Since 1639 the building has served as a prison, town hall and later, a cinema. It became a shopping center in 1993 after years of abandonment.

Shops, cafés and a travel agency operate on two floors surrounding a central courtyard, where musicians sometimes entertain visitors. A third floor contains administrative offices.

As a shopping arcade, it was named for Gabriel Vicente Gahona, known under his pen name Picheta as a Meridano caricaturist, painter, draftsman and engraver born in 1828. Picheta is remembered for his keen sense of political and social criticism.

Since work began in November, the passage has been closed to the public. This is the first renovation there since 2004, financed by the state Board of the Cultural and Tourism Services Units (Cultur), which sees the passage as having more potential.

“The project will change the face of that passage and we want it to represent the heart of the city, as well as being an icon for the visitor and showing what the Yucatecans are,”  Cultur Director Dafne López Martínez said in January. “It would also be the point of departure to know our state.”

It is not clear if the murals will survive the 12-million-peso project, but the real Picheta’s artwork remain an important piece of Mérida history.

In 1847, Picheta founded the magazine Don Bullebulle (loosely, Mr. Busybody) which harshly criticized the social customs of the day.

His caricatures, carved in wood, include scenes from the Caste War and characters from the Yucatecan bourgeois. He also illustrated the novel “El Banquero de Cera” (“The Wax Banker”), he produced various lithographs, and he worked on stage sets for plays. He ended his years working for a company that milled corn, pioneering the city’s entry into the industrial era.

After he died in 1899, his works were largely forgotten until 1938, when his descendants donated some of them to what is the now Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán at the Palacio Cantón.

Some of Picheta’s works and his lithographic press are on display at the Pinacoteca del Estado de Yucatán Juan Gamboa Guzmán museum, Calle 59 x 58 y 60, and a permanent collection of 15 of his works on view at the Museo de la Ciudad (Calle 56 x 65 y 65A).

Sources: Diario de Yucatán, La Vieja Guardia

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