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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Uayma is an architectural gem in Yucatán’s east

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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.

Though Uayma is still in many ways a quintessential quiet Yucatecan town, the last decade or so has brought a new flair by way of some truly fascinating architectural projects.

Uayma is a small town of about 3,000 people located 15 kilometers, or around nine miles, west of Valladolid. The town is well known for its beautifully adorned 17th-century church but it is by no means a spot frequented by many tourists.   

A contemporary landmark in Uayma denoting the name of the town accompanied by a man and a woman dancing the jarana, a form of folk dance representative of Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Before the arrival of the Spanish to the Yucatánin in the 16th century, a large section of the eastern Peninsula encompassing Uayma, Valladolid, and beyond was under the control of a Maya chiefdom known as the Cupules. 

Uayma’s coat of arms makes reference to the rule of the Cupules, as well as their mixed mestizo heritage, the importance of corn to the community, as well as the henequen boom of the 18 and 19th centuries. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Almost always when the topic of Uayma comes up it is because of its beautiful church and former convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The church is often considered one of the most striking in all of Yucatán for its colorful kaleidoscope-like facade and unique decorative features. 

Blue stars on the facade represent the original worship of Mary, red represents the blood of Christ, and a double-headed eagle represents the then=ruling Hapsburg dynasty of Spain. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Though the convent section of the colonial era complex no longer functions as such, it is still in use and kept up fairly well.

The former convent is annexed to the church and shares many of the same design elements but is considerably more subtle. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The church was built originally by the Spaniards to enforce their culture in Uayma, which was at the time an important Mayan center. As is common in Yucatán, stones from nearby Mayan temples were used in the construction.

Below the double-headed Hapsburg eagle are stone Mayan pattern carvings. It is not clear when these elements were incorporated into the facade, but it is unlikely that they were part of the original design. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The church was set ablaze during the caste war of the 19th century but was restored in the 20th. Given its vibrant style, the complex has in recent years begun to draw tourists and couples looking for memorable wedding photos.

A Japanese couple poses for photos in front of Uyama’s church just prior to their wedding. Photo: Courtesy

But Uayma’s Santo Domingo de Guzmán church is not the only architecturally interesting feature to be found in Uayma. A handful of out-of-town investors, mostly from Valladolid, have opted to replicate elements of the famous church, bringing, even more, color and dynamism to the tiny community. 

Casa de Los Pianos sits just across from Uyamas famous church and incorporates many of its architectural elements into its own design. 

Casa de Los Pianos is available to rent and has four lovely bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a spacious backyard, as well as a balcony with a striking view of the church and former convent. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Another notable property, Casona Santo Domingo de Guzmán, goes even further in the emulation of the church of the same name. This bright blue home is accented with 17th-century religious motifs and even replicas of the double-headed Hapsburg eagle.

Casona Santo Domingo de Guzmán sits on a corner across from Uayma’s main city plaza. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Casona Santo Domingo de Guzmán also includes a striking archway complete with design elements directly borrowed from Uayma’s church, but also a few variations on that theme. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht 

Of course, not every home in Uayma is as grand. Many traditional Mayan houses can still be found in the sleepy community, along with more contemporary constructions. 

Traffic in Uayma does not seem to be a thing. In fact, most locals seem to prefer moving around town on bicycles and rickshaws. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

If you are looking for action or a party atmosphere, you will likely be better served by visiting the nearby city of Valladolid and its famous Calzada de Los Frailes, but for relaxation, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place than Uayma. 

Two local women make their way back from the market during an easy-going Sunday morning in Uayma, Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht 

Driving around Uayma, notice the ruins of what must have once been grand estates, many of which are for sale. Some properties are so damaged, however, that you may be better off starting again from scratch. 

If you fancy a change of scenery and a relaxed lifestyle, Uayma could be right for you. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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