Mérida’s street plan, drawn back in the 1500s, was made according to the checkerboard layout and a chessboard design.
It was a common implementation in most Hispanic American cities and it meant that the town starts from a central square, which was commonly used as the Plaza de Armas.
Towards the end of 1542, Francisco de Montejo “El Mozo” distributed lots among those who had accompanied him in the conquest, a site he later arranged to become Mérida’s Plaza de Armas.
He destined the east for the Cathedral, and the north for the seat of the royal houses, the civil power.
The south was reserved for the residence of the Montejos family. In the west, a Mayan structure was maintained until the 18th century.
During colonial times, the Plaza Mayor witnessed the swearing-in of Spanish kings, religious processions, bullfights, and many more important events.
In 1812, the square changed its name to “Plaza de la Constitución” (Constitution Square) as a result of an official disposition of the Spanish authorities. In 1821, after the independence struggle from Spain was consummated, Merida’s main park was then called “Plaza de la Independencia”.
In the 19th century, further improvements were made to the plazas, from the installation of a seventy-six feet high iron tower in the center to a double-story kiosk.
Modifications to the Plaza Grande
On Sundays and holidays, the municipal and state band played. In 1907, when the then President General Porfirio Diaz visited the city, the perimeter fence was removed, laurels were cut and the kiosk disappeared.
For the following years, the plaza underwent slight modifications until 1959 and 1978 the most important material remodeling works took place. The mercury light was introduced in the garden, and the old platform of eight angles was transformed into a circular one, where today the national flag flies in the civic plaza.
After decades intact, the Plaza Grande underwent restoration work in 2011. During the works in the Main Plaza, in the southern sector, in front of the Casa de Montejo, evidence of cobblestone from the colonial period was found, as well as fragments of pre-Hispanic clay and ceramics.
Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History identified red-colored colonial walls of what is presumed to be evidence of the first colonial plaza of the Yucatecan capital.
Today, the Plaza Grande is still the main square of the city.
Surrounded by historical buildings which today hold government offices and iconic businesses, it is usually crowded with locals, tourists, and vendors alike.
Any list of Mérida’s most famous spots would be incomplete without its iconic main square.