Merida’s centro historico (historic center) is one of the largest in Mexico and laid out on a grid pattern. Many of the buildings in the historic center of Merida, including those on and around the Plaza Grande (central plaza), were built during the colonial period through the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Cathedral de San Ildefonso (San Ildefonso Cathedral) is the oldest cathedral on the continent and one of the top Merida attractions. It was built between 1561 and 1598 using stones from ruined Mayan pyramids and temples. The interior is sparsely decorated and a crucifix behind the main altar symbolizes the reconciliation of the Spanish and Mayan heritage of the city. Housed in a chapel off to the left, you’ll find the most important religious artifact in Merida, the Cristo de las Ampollas (Christ of the Blisters).
The Christ of the Blisters figure that’s found in the cathedral is a replica of the original Christ figure that was recovered from a burned church in the nearby town of Ichmul. The original figure dates to the 16th century and was carved from the wood of a tree that had burned after being hit by lightning, but did not char. When the church in Ichmul caught fire, the figure was blistered but unharmed. It was named Christ of the Blisters and relocated to Merida’s cathedral in 1645. The replica that’s on display in the cathedral today was created to replace the original after the sacking of the city by revolutionary forces in 1915.
Located on the south side of the central plaza is the Casa de Montejo (Montejo House), a 16th century Spanish plateresque-style building and former home of the Montejo family. A visit to the Montejo House, with its monumental carved stone facade, is one of the important things to do in Merida.
Another of the important things to do in Merida is to tour the interior of the Palacio Municipal (City Hall). The interior of the City Hall building is decorated with murals by Yucatecan artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals depict scenes from Merida’s history. The adjoining building houses a cultural center and frequently hosts performances and exhibitions.
Merida’s central plaza is especially popular on Sunday evenings when the city hosts its weekly Merida en Domingo (Merida on Sunday) street festival with live music and dancing. The central plaza is also a great place to sample some of the city’s local flavor. Street food vendors offer marquesitas (cheese filled crepes) and champolas (milkshake style beverages made with sherbert) to hungry festival-goers.