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"As soon as one disembarks at the international airport of Merida, one is ungulfed by the warm air of this land between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and the perfumes of spices and of tropical fruits and flowers."
- Jadranka Vrsalovic

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Mexico

The first "American Capital of Culture"
by Jadranka Vrsalovic, Barcelona, Spain
Apr 5, 1999

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Mexico

Merida - T’Hó (Yucatan, Mexico ) - A landscape of identity.

For the first time in history, a city in one of the 35 countries in America has received the annual designation of American Capital of Culture, an initiative that counts with the full support and collaboration of the Organization of the American States. This designation is to be a tool for the greater understanding and cohesion of the American People and the projection of the American culture to the rest of the world. Merida will hold the designation of American Capital of Culture for the full year 2000.

When low-level flying over the flatness of the Yucatan Peninsula, in tropical south-east Mexico and heart of the American Continent, one glimpses a sea of green. It is the land of ancient Mayan gods: Kin, the god of the sun, and Chac, the god of the rain. As soon as one disembarks at the international airport of Merida, one is ungulfed by the warm air of this land between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and the perfumes of spices and of tropical fruits and flowers.

Merida was known as the "white city" due to the whiteness that covered the façades of its buildings. It is an old city with a great autochthonous population and deep in cultural roots. It is the cosmopolitan city of the Mayab, the Mayan world and holds a strategic point of entry into the Continent of deep America, and Latin America.

If rather short of flowing rivers, there exist rich subterranean streams that slowly dissolve lime rocks forming caverns and subterranean galleries. Sometimes in their bowels water accumulates forming deposits of water at great depths known as "cenotes", word that originated from the Mayan tz’ono’ot. These wells are opened at the surface but hidden in the interior of the caverns.

Merida is the tenth oldest city in Mexico. Its history is before pre-Hispanic times when the Mayan town of T’Hó, also known as Ichcaanzihó or land of the great "sihoes", was established around 1240 by the Indian chief itza Ah-Chan-Caan.

When the Spaniards arrived at Yucatan around the middle of the sixteenth century there was but little activity there, thus they only found the remains of the old Mayan city. The 6th of January 1542 was a historic day when Don Francisco de Montejo y Leon, known as "El Mozo" founded the new city of Merida upon the ruins of T’Hó. It is said that one of his soldiers by the name of Francisco de Almaraz suggested the name of Merida when remembering the Roman ruins of Spain’ Merida, the ancient Emerita Augusta of Roman Spain.

The then established city was designed with the use of a cord as a measuring tool. The streets are straight and with square angles according to the conventional Hispanic model, centered by a Place d’Armes and surrounded by the main public buildings that included the Cathedral, the first one built in America. The base of the building materials used by a few of the Spanish settlers were the ruins and debris of Mayan T’Ho. We can today appreciate that kind of construction in some of the historical buildings in the City. Side by side to those building, settlers constructed houses using mud and straw and roofed with thatch giving a rural and rustic appearance to primitive Merida.

When did Merida become independent?

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