On January 6, the gracious capital of the state of Yucatan is 469 years old! It is celebrating the anniversary of its foundation by Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo y León the Younger in 1542 amidst the deserted ruins of a much earlier Mayan city called T’Ho. The festivities will last the whole month with the Merida City Festival, January 5 – 30.

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Mérida, Yucatán

The fun started on January 5 with the Alborada, a strolling serenade from Santa Lucia Park to City Hall at 11 p.m. in which hundreds of musicians performed songs telling of their love for the city. At midnight the church bells were tolled and the crowds joined in singing the traditional Mexican birthday song Las Mañanitas. On the morning of January 6, local people gather before the altar in San Idelfonso Cathedral, one of the oldest in the Americas, to offer their prayers for their city.

The City Festival features more than 200 events ranging from concerts, theater and dance performances to art exhibitions, cinema and literary workshops, in addition to the traditional weekly musical recitals and folk ballet events staged in the city’s parks and squares. This year, it has attracted 1,000 performers from the Yucatan, different parts of Mexico and from guest country, Colombia. Native son and world-famous singer-songwriter Armando Manzanero will be giving the inaugural concert on January 6. Other highlights include an exhibition at the City Museum titled Merida, Yesterday and Today, showcasing the work of Manuel Lizama, art by Arnaldo Coen at the Centro Cultural Olimpo and two national award ceremonies for short stories (Beatriz Espejo) and poetry (Poesía Mérida 2011) respectively.

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The festival program is available on http://www.merida.gob.mx/festival/programas.html

Whatever the Season, Merida

With historic monuments ranging from the impressive 16th century Cathedral and a collection of colonial churches and convents to 19th century civic buildings and the palatial residences of the henequen barons along Paseo Montejo, fascinating museums, art galleries and craft centers and a thriving cultural scene there’s always something to see and do in Merida, whatever the season. Be sure to take in some of the evening concerts and folk dance performances staged throughout the year, here’s a listing.

Weekly Events in Merida

Saturday

Fiesta Mexicana

Live music and folk dances from Yucatan and other Mexican states, food and craft stalls.

8 p.m., Calle 47 and Paseo Montejo

Corazón de Merida

Music, dance and open-air dining along Calle 60, the street leading north from the main square where the Church of the Third Order, Peon Contreras Theater, the University of the Yucatan and other landmarks are located.

From 9 p.m. Calle 60

Sunday

Mérida en Domingo

The main square and surrounding streets are closed to traffic for this popular family gala featuring live music and dance performances, trio serenades, art exhibitions, handicraft and food stands.

9 a.m. – 9 p.m., main square and Calle 60. There is also a concert at the MACAY Museum next to the Cathedral from 12 to 1 p.m., a trio serenade at Pasaje Picheta at 8 p.m. and ask about midday concerts of classical music at Peon Contreras Theater during the Yucatan Symphony Orchestra season.

Biciruta

The streets of the historic heart of Merida, Paseo Montejo and those in Barrio San Juan and to Ermita de Santa Isabel are closed during the morning along this five-kilometer bicycle route which will take you past some of the city’s most important monuments.

8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Art on Sundays

Local and foreign artists display and sell their work on Merida’s famous tree-lined boulevard.

9 a.m.  Paseo Montejo

Monday

Vaqueria

9 p.m. in front of City Hall in the main square.

Colorful traditional dances from the Yucatan, including those forming a part in village fiestas called vaquerias.

Tuesday

Big Band Concert

From 8:30 p.m., Santiago Park, Calle 59 & 72

Wednesday

Live music at the Olimpo Cultural Center.

9 p.m., main square

Thursday

Santa Lucia Serenade

Concerts, traditional dances and poetry readings

9 p.m. Santa Lucía Park

Corazón de Merida

Music and open-air dining along Calle 60, the street leading north from the main square where the Church of the Third Order, Peon Contreras Theater, the University of the Yucatan and other landmarks are located.

From 9 p.m. Calle 60

Friday

Serenades in the University of Yucatan courtyard.

9 p.m., Calle 60 & 57

Trio serenades in the main square

9 p.m. Pasaje Picheta

Noches de Leyenda

A two-hour walking tour and theatrical experience in one, scenes from Merida’s history are reenacted in nine different settings. At this time performances are in Spanish.

8:30 p.m., tickets available in Santa Lucia Park.

A repeat performance is staged on Saturday.

Corazón de Merida

Calle 60, the street leading north from the main square is closed to traffic and local restaurants set up tables al fresco in the squares and outside Peon Contreras Theater for an evening of dining under the stars. There’s live music at different points along the route with everything from trios and jazz to salsa on the repertoire.

From 9 p.m. Calle 60

Events are subject to change; when in Merida ask for the current program.

Songs from the Heart, la Trova Yucateca

Wander through the streets of Mérida on any given night and you’ll discover how important music is to area inhabitants, the serenades performed by guitar-strumming trios playing in the squares and serenading diners at local restaurants are the very essence of trova, the music of the Yucatán.

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Trovadores in Mérida

The Yucatán Peninsula is the gateway to Mexico and its ports have always been the stepping off point for musical influences, all of which were absorbed and transformed by local performers. Musicians from Colombia, Cuba and Central America contributed their own rhythms and styles and the end result was trova.

Trova is actually a blend of three musical genres: the bolero from Cuba and the bambuco and claves from Colombia, and its romantic lilting melodies owe a great deal to the Maya, the Spaniards and to Africa via Cuba and Colombia. The ballads are tender and somewhat melancholy, pure poetry set to music.

The most famous composers and performers of trova yucateca are the legendary Guty Cárdenas, Armando Manzanero and José Antonio Méndez, whose repertoires include songs such as “Somos novios” (“We are lovers”), “Nunca” (“Never”), “Contigo aprendi” ( “I learned with you”) and “Tres regalos” (“Three gifts”), all of which are now classics.

Don’t miss these strolling trio musicians in Santa Lucía square every Thursday at 8 p.m. If you are interested in learning more about trova music, why not visit the museum dedicated to the history of these romantic ballads and local composers, Museo de la Cancion Yucateca, Calle 57 No. 464-A x 48. Open: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Trips to Merida

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House in Paseo Montejo, Mérida

Thomas More Travel offers day trips and overnight stays to Merida. If you plan to rent a car and make your own way there, Merida is 320 km/200 miles from Cancun and the drive takes around three and a half hours by car on the toll road and four hours or more depending on traffic on Highway 180. Flights also are available from Cancun.