In our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, Euclid Avenue was once lined with the mansions of industrialists and other prominent citizens. (John D. Rockefeller was once a Cleveland resident.) The avenue was known as "Millionaires' Row" and was considered one of the most beautiful streets in the country. Sadly, hardly any of those mansions remain standing today.
A similar story is true of Mérida. In the late 1800s, sleepy Mérida experienced an economic boom and found itself with more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world. The source of that boom was the "hennequén" or sisal plant. The fibrous leaves of the plant could be used to make rope. In the second half of the 19th century, plantation owners began cultivating sisal, and Yucatán ended up producing most of the entire world's supply of cordage.
There was no room in the cramped center of Mérida for the new sisal millionaires to build their townhouses and mansions. So in 1888 plans were drawn up to create a new boulevard heading north out of the city and patterned after the Champs Elysee of Paris. The street was named Paseo Montejo, and it was soon lined with elegant new residences. Many of those mansions are now gone, and most of those that remain today house business or government offices. They do give us an idea of what the boulevard must have been like during its heyday.
Today Gail, Wes and I strolled along Montejo Boulevard and admired the architecture. The most impressive of the surviving mansions is the "Palacio Cantón", the home of a former governor of the state of Yucatán.
The mansion later became the archaeological museum of the state. Recently a brand new "Museum of the Mayan World" was built on the northern outskirts of the city. The "Palacio Cantón" was relegated to being the venue for temporary exhibits. But those exhibits are often so excellent that, in my mind, a trip to the new museum is unnecessary. When we approached the palace today, we saw that they had an exhibit of artifacts from the Mayan cities of Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam. So we went inside, paid the admission of 55 pesos ($2.25 U.S.) per person, and saw a top-notch exhibit.
I can't help but imagine that the curators go down to the basement of the palace, rummage through what they have in storage, and come up with a show that would make most museums in the world green with envy!