Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Yucatan Regional Museum of Anthropology and History in Mérida

Whenever I visit the Spanish colonial city of Mérida on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, I always make sure to spend some time poking around the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History. This interesting museum is located in the Palacio Cantón, an imposing mansion that dates back to the early years of the 20th-century when Merida was home to wealthy families involved in the manufacture of henequén (sisal). The palace faces the broad Paseo de Montejo, a tree-lined boulevard said to have been modeled after the Champs Elysée in Paris.

Palacio Cantón was designed by the Italian architect Enrico Deserti and is named after its last resident General Francisco Cantón, a prominent figure in the Yucatan who died in 1917. Built in the Mannerist and Baroque styles, the building's facade sports ornate balustrades, elegant balconies, and neoclassical columns. Many of the materials used in its construction were imported from Europe, such as the marble used to fashion its gleaming floors.

Exhibits trace the history of the Yucatán Peninsula from the age of mastodons through Spanish Colonial times to Mexican Independence. There are plenty of Spanish colonial artifacts including religious paintings, coins, weaponry and the like. However, my favorite exhibits are the ones featuring Mayan artifacts from sites such as Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Mayapán, and Ek Balam. Among the items on display are haunting stone sculptures, exquisite jade jewelry and ceramics, plus intricately carved stone censors or incensarios.

There are also plans and photographs of major archaeological sites, as well as a bookstore with numerous books on archaeology and history. All in all, a visit to the museum provides an excellent introduction for travelers planning to head out and explore the Yucatán Peninsula's historical towns, haciendas, and remarkable ancient Mayan cities.

The Museo Regional de Antropologia e Historía located on Paseo Montejo at Calle 43. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 8am to 8pm; Sunday from 8am to 2pm. Admission is about US$4.00.

Here is a short video about Palacio Cantón and the museum produced by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). It's worth watching even if you don't speak Spanish.

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