On January 6, 1542, 475 years ago today, the Spanish conqueror Francisco Montejo the Younger founded Mérida. Montejo built his city on the site of an earlier Mayan town called Ichcaanzihó. The temples and pyramids were torn down, and the blocks of stone were used to construct his Spanish, colonial town. He named it Mérida after a city back in his mother country of Spain.
In a city where a sizeable portion of the population has Mayan ancestry, Montejo remains a controversial figure who is not univerally loved. Nevertheless, Mérida celebrates each year on the eve of the founding of the city. Gail, Wes and I were able to witness and participate in the festivities.
At around 11:00 PM last night the procession begins to gather by the Plaza de Santa Lucía (which, very conveniently, is just a half block from our hotel). The procession is led by a group of young people holding candles and dressed in the traditional attire of Yucatán.
They are followed by scores of musicians who represent the city's four troubadours' unions. (Yes, traditional music is such an important part of the culture here that there are troubadours' unions!)
The procession moved down the main street toward the town square. The musicians were all strumming their guitars and singing well-loved ballads. The spectators, including the three of us, followed behind them.
We reached the plaza, and the musicians assembled in front of the city hall. There they gave a short concert. Many of the songs extolled the beauty of their city. At midnight, the musicians and the crowd (including myself) all sang the traditional Mexican birthday song, "Las Mañanitas".
The celebration concluded with a fireworks display. What a joyous, wonderful event it is! I think that Gail and Wes felt very privileged to have been a part of Mérida's birthday party.
¡Feliz cumpleaños, Mérida!