Go to the firs article of the series: THE OLD NEIGHBOURHOODS OF MERIDA
Crowded Sunday Walks on “La Alameda” – San Cristóbal
By Gonzalo Navarrete Muñoz
Translation by Mary Maas
The 18th century passed as a preparation for what would come in the first years of the following century; this century was for some colonial cities, La Habana and Mérida included, a period of urban splendor. The 18th century was the century in which the cult of Guadalupe was established; the Virgin of Guadalupe was, indeed, a figure that gave identity to the Mexican people and for that reason her image became the first flag of our country.
This urban resurgence did not pass unheralded in the city of Mérida: in the old neighbourhood of San Cristóbal, which served as the base for the Mexica Indians that came with Montejo to conquer Yucatán, a church was erected which was consecrated to Saint Mary of Guadalupe, dependent on the parish that was in the convent of San Francisco, located inside the Fortress of San Benito, on whose grounds, now much diminished in size, the new city market was built.
A stone plaque located in the interior of the church states, among other things, that “D. Santiago Servian, master of architecture, placed the last cornerstone to the satisfaction of the pueblo”. Don Santiago Servian was perhaps the first architect in Yucatán, and the date to which the plaque alludes is the 28th of December, 1796.
In this century of urban transformation, the Captain General of the province, don Lucas de Gálvez, ordered the construction in what today is Calle 65 between 54 and 56, of “La Alameda”, which was a wide street with stone benches and was embellished with the leafy trees that honoured the its name (my note: Alameda, refers not only to “avenue”, but the Alamo, or poplar tree).
This beautiful street displaced the earlier “Paseo de Santa Ana” and its arches, also built in the 18th century, from the place on honor in the preferences of the meridanos.
The Sunday strolls on “La Alameda” were so crowded that the first change of name occurred, as they began to call it “El Paseo de las Bonitas” and of the 19th century Calle 65 was called the street of “the Noblemen” and later it received the name with which even today those who know the area refer to it: “Calle Ancha del Bazar” (Broad Street of the Market).
In 1833, the old small square of “La Alameda” was converted into the park that later was given the name “Eulogio Rosado” (my note: named after the military hero of the white yucatecos during the War of the Castes). In the second half of the 19th century two established markets existed in Mérida: the García Rejón, located at the confluence of 1st avenue, Calle de los Hidalgos and the second avenue, Sur del Progreso (today Calle 65 and Calle 60), and the Market-Bazaar, which was found in the old “Paseo de las Bonitas” and to which is due the change in the name to “Calle Ancha del Bazar”. These two markets were insufficient and uncomfortable, so that don Manuel Romero Ancona, governor of the state, promoted the construction of a market “for vegetables” in the grounds of the Citadel of San Benito, placing the first stone on May 5, 1880, celebrating, in this way, the anniversary of the battle of Puebla.
It’s appropriate to clarify that since the 17th century the streets running between La Mejorada and what later would be San Cristóbal were chosen by the vendors that came from the interior of the state to set out their merchandise. That is to say, the zone has had a commercial profile for centuries.
Between La Mejorada and San Cristóbal there existed one of the five legendary hills of the prehispanic city, which gave its name to the street that communicated between the two little squares: the Impossible Street. On the crest of this hill a Mayan deity called “H Chan-Can” or “H Chun Caah” was worshipped; however, the Spanish, following the applicable procedures in these cases, called it the hill of San Antonio or San Antón.
Don Benito Pérez de Valdelomar was the one who overcame the famous Street of the Impossible and opened it for city commerce. The establishment of the Central Railroad Station, in lands adjoining the area, came to solidify its commercial character.
It is one of the richest and most significant zones of the city and currently one of the busiest. San Cristóbal is an extraordinary neighbourhood because it has given shelter to five cultures: Maya, Mexican, Spanish, Mestizo, and Arab. The church even carried out, with the authorization of the bishop, a mass in accordance with the maronite (my note – referring to the eastern Catholic, or Syrian church) rite.
Certainly the area was a natural choice for the Lebanese immigrants to establish their businesses and homes. From this suburb two institutions of the Yucatecan cuisine have entered into Mérida: the tortilla and the kibi. The first was brought by the Mexicas (my note – this refers to the Indians from central Mexico) who came with Montejo – to these also we attribute the introduction of the hammock – and the second from the Syrian-Lebanese immigrants. There exist delicious histories that assure us that the neighbourhood of San Cristóbal appeared, for a time, to be a suburb of Beirut or Damascus.
One can’t leave it without speaking of another transcendent figure that came from San Cristóbal: Father Crescencio A. Cruz, founder of the ACJM in Yucatán and the savings system that preceded the Sistema Coopera (my note: Sistema Coopera is the rural savings-loan banks that one finds in most pueblos in the interior of the state).
Go to the next article from the series: THE OLD NEIGHBOURHOODS OF MERIDA: THE ROAD OF SANTA ANA (Tomorrow)