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Monday, February 6, 2023

Plaza Grande — The history of Mérida’s most iconic square

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Veronica Garibay
Veronica Garibayhttp://yucatanmagazine.com
Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Mérida’s street plan, drawn back in the 1500s, was made according to the checkerboard layout and a chessboard design.

Mérida’s main square, seen from above. The Plaza follows a similar pattern to the streets of the city. Photo: Courtesy

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.

Street vendors are usually spotted inside the main square, enjoying the shade provided by large trees. Photo: Verónica Garibay

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 Catedral, located east of the main square. Photo: Verónica Garibay

The south was reserved for the residence of the Montejos family. In the west, a Mayan structure was maintained until the 18th century.

Behind the post, a peak of Casa Montejo, a Colonial home now turned into a museum. Photo: Verónica Garibay

During colonial times, the Plaza Mayor witnessed the swearing-in of Spanish kings, religious processions, bullfights, and many more important events.

The municipal palace, west of the main square. Photo: Verónica Garibay

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”. 

An old portrait replays the old views of “La Plaza Grande”. Photo: Courtesy

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.

The Plaza Grande from the sky, at sunset. The circle square is surrounded by large trees, which offer plenty of shade for visitors. Photo: Courtesy

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.

The nowadays circular square of the plaza, where children often feed pigeons. Photo: Verónica Garibay

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.

Today, Plaza Grande is also commonly known for the “Mérida” sign, a popular site for visitors. Photo: Verónica Garibay

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.

Commercial corridors surround the plaza, with all kinds of Yucatecan products — including the universally beloved Helados Colón. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Today, the Plaza Grande is still the main square of the city.

A peaceful walker strolling around the wide corridors of the park. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Surrounded by historical buildings which today hold government offices and iconic businesses, it is usually crowded with locals, tourists, and vendors alike. 

Plaque in front of the main square, acknowledging its official name: Plaza de la Independencia. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Any list of Mérida’s most famous spots would be incomplete without its iconic main square. 

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