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Thursday, May 26, 2022

The story of the “many Méridas”

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The three most well-known Méridas in Venezuela, Yucatán, and Spain —  left to right. Photo: Courtesy

Many people living in Mérida, Yucatán are vaguely aware that the city shares its name with other communities around the world. But the specifics surrounding how and why Yucatán’s capital got its name are not well known. 

Monumento a la Patria or “Monument to the Homeland” in Mérida, Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Perhaps given its location right next to an overpass in the north of town, a park honoring the three most famous Méridas remains under-visited. The park features a large Neo-Mayan monument complete with the emblems of the Méridas in Spain, Yucatán, and Venezuela. 

The Parque Paso A Desnivel gets its name from the fact that it’s located just next to an overpass. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The park was built in 1992 in honor of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the first Europeans to the American continent, but is seldom visited as it is unknown to most in the city. However, over the past year or so, the park has begun to gain a little more notoriety, as on Sundays it hosts a small farmers market. 

Shoppers look around market stalls selling a variety of products including coffee, fresh produce, and bread. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Surrounding the monuments are sculptures of the historical figures meant to represent each of the three most well-known Méridas. 

The sculptures framing the monument are of the controversial Francisco de Montejo, Emperor Augustus, and Simon Bolivar. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

According to anecdotes passed down through the centuries, upon arriving in the Mayan City of T’ho, Spanish conquistadors drew parallels between the massive Mayan structures they encountered and the Roman ruins found in Mérida, Spain  —  thus settling on this name. The newly christened Mérida soon began to expand and eventually become the capital of the region, a distinction which it holds to this day almost 500 years later. It is also, by far, the largest of all cities in the world that go by the name. 

Mérida Yucatán is one of the oldest cities on the American continent and boasts the oldest cathedral on the continent’s mainland. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The first Mérida was founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus in the year 25 CE as a community for retired legionnaires. In fact, during the first century, the city’s Latin name was Colonia Lulia Emerita Augusta, which roughly translated to Augustus’ retirement community. In time the community grew, eventually becoming the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania, and Spanish Mérida almost 2,000 years after that. 

Mérida Spain is well known for having some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the entire Iberian Peninsula. Photo: Wikimedia Foundation. 

Officially known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida, the capital of the municipality of Libertador and the state of Mérida is one of the main cities of the Venezuelan Andes. It was founded in 1558 by Captain Juan Rodríguez Suárez, forming part of Nueva Granada, but later became part of the Captaincy General of Venezuela and played an active role in the War of Independence. The city of just over 200,000 is also known for its cable car network, which is said to be the largest in the world. 

Shot of Mérida Venezuela along the Viaducto Campo Elías. Photo: Wikimedia Foundation

Even though some in Yucatán are aware of the existence of Méridas in Venezuela and Spain, few are aware that lesser-known locations around the world also share this name, as is the case in the Philippines and Nicaragua. 

The Municipality of Merida (without an accent) is a municipality in the province of Leyte, the Philippines with a population of roughly 31,500 people. Photo: Wikimedia Foundation

However, fewer people still realize that there are locations called Mérida within Mexico in states including Baja California, Jalisco, Tampico, and Chiapas. But we all know which Mérida is truly king. Hint hint, it’s in Yucatán, clearly. 

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