views updated May 29 2018


City of about 15,000 on the right bank of the Guadiana River, in Estremadura, southwest Spain. Founded by Augustus (25 b.c.), it became the capital of Roman Lusitania and one of the first dioceses and metropolitanates in Spain. The famous martyr, St. Eulalia (c. 304; feast, Dec. 10) is ascribed to Mérida (prudentius, Peristephanon 3); she was joined in the Spanish liturgy c. 600 by St. Eulalia of Barcelona, usually regarded as a double of the martyr of Mérida. Eulalia, a voluntary martyr, is ascribed to Barcelona in the 1574 edition of eulogius of cÓrdoba (Memoriale sanctorum 1.24), d. 859, who seems to have known Prudentius. Her cult spread through Spain, North Africa (a sermon by St. Augustine), Gaul, Germany, and Italy (Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna).

Mérida, a center of priscillianism, was the locale of a valuable Visigothic work, the vitae of the Fathers of

Mérida (633638), prized in León by Alfonso III in 906; Eulalia is mentioned 29 times in the vitae. The acts of a reform council held in Mérida (666) and the Arabic text of Mérida's contract of surrender to the Arabs (June 713) are extant. The city was the scene of almost constant rebellion against cÓrdoba until 929. Louis I the Pious of France in 826 wrote to the magistrates and people of Mérida, encouraging them to continue resistance and promising them their full liberty of old, exemption from taxation, and the right to live under their own law if they would ally with him against Córdoba. In 828 Mahmud, a mollites (offspring of a Christian-Muslim marriage), rebelled and fled with his followers to Christian Galicia. His sister, according to Arabic accounts, became a Christian, and her son became bishop of santiago de compostela. Ariulfus, metropolitan of Mérida, took part in ecclesiastical affairs of Betica (839864).

When Badajoz was founded downstream with settlers from Mérida (868875), the metropolitan also may have moved. Bishop Julius of Badajoz fled to Santiago, where he signed a document in 932. But Mérida appears as a metropolitanate with a varying number of suffragan sees in episcopal lists as late as the 13th century. The origin of these lists, which appear in several countries of Europe, is obscure; and it is not clear what period the lists would represent.

In 1120 the Metropolitanate of Mérida was transferred to Santiago. The city, after its reconquest (1228), was given to the knights of st. james (1232) until the 15th century. Settlers did not come, however, and Mérida was almost deserted from the 14th to the 16th century. Its many Roman ruins, still famous, survived in good state to the 18th century, when they suffered from neglect and abuse. Mérida is now part of the Diocese of Badajoz.

Bibliography: h. flÓrez et al., España sagrada (Madrid 17471957) 13:48317. a. lambert, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 6:96117. a. fabrega-grau, ibid. 15:138085. e. p. colbert, The Martyrs of Córdoba, 850859 (Washington 1962).

[e. p. colbert]


views updated May 09 2018


Mérida, capital and principal city of the state of Yucatán in Mexico, located in the northwestern part of the Yucatán peninsula, about 22 miles south of the port of Progreso (and the Gulf of Mexico). Mérida was founded on 6 January 1542 by the conquistador Francisco de Montejo on the site of the semideserted Maya town of T'ho. Formerly known as Ichcaazihó (which means Five Mountains in Maya), T'ho was within the Maya city-state of Peches, which allied itself with the conquering Spaniards against rival Maya city-states. It is believed that the conquistadores chose the name Mérida because T'ho's indigenous ruins reminded them of the Roman remains in the city of Badajoz in their native Estremadura.

Since the Spanish lacked the military capability to pacify the entire peninsula, their colonizing strategy hinged on the establishment of garrison towns such as Mérida during the colonial period. Mounted troops were dispatched to trouble spots to maintain peace and subdue Indian uprisings. Mérida's physical layout echoed the classic style of the Spanish Renaissance. Crown authorities had insisted on the traditional grid pattern of wide, straight streets intersecting at right angles to form rectangular blocks and open squares. If the city's architecture replicated the Moorish style in vogue at the time in Spain, its simplicity also reflected the dearth of material wealth found in the province. Throughout the colonial era, Mérida remained the seat of the captaincy-general, a self-governing administrative unit independent of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Mérida was a small town of 10,000 inhabitants. It grew appreciably during the first twenty years after Independence as the regional economy prospered. An unfortunate result of economic progress, however, was the escalation of tensions between expansionistic sugar planters and Maya peasants on the state's southeastern frontier. Ultimately, the apocalyptic Caste War of Yucatán erupted in 1847, reducing Yucatán's population by more than a third. Ironically, Mérida (and the northwestern portion of the peninsula) benefited economically and demographically from the hostilities, as residents of the southeast fled to escape the attacks of the rebel Mayas.

Political factionalism in Mérida and neighboring Campeche during the first fifty years following Independence also contributed indirectly to the state capital's growth: when campechanos seceded from Yucatán in 1862, Mérida remained the only viable commercial center in the state. By 1883, the city numbered roughly 40,000, the only state capital to record a sizable increase during the Mexican nation's turbulent first half-century.

By the beginning of Porfirio Díaz's dictatorship (1876–1911), Mérida was positioned to assume a dominating role in the rapidly expanding Henequen (hard fiber) industry. The northwest quadrant of the peninsula was converted into large henequen estates, as hacendados lived in Mérida and managed their haciendas through overseers. During the henequen boom, a peninsular railway network, built, financed, and managed by indigenous entrepreneurs, was routed through Mérida to transport the monocrop. The combination of henequen monoculture, the railroad, the Caste War, and the secession of Campeche (and later in 1902, the partition of the southeastern territory of Quintana Roo) all contributed to Mérida's steady ascent to the leading city in the region. By 1910, the capital's population had grown to more than 60,000; Valladolid, the second-largest city in the state, had fewer than 12,000 residents.

The late-nineteenth-century henequen boom radically changed the city. During Olegario Molina's gubernatorial administration (1902–1909) the most sweeping changes occurred. The Molinista regime taxed the lucrative monocrop and, with the support of the private sector, transformed housing, transportation, communications, public health and sanitation, education, the arts, and the urban landscape. Mérida soon earned the sobriquets "The White City" and "The Paris of Mexico." It was clean, well lit, paved with asphalt, and increasingly modernized.

Since World War I, henequen monoculture has gradually dissipated, but the state capital has remained the political, economic, and cultural hub of the peninsula. Migration and immigration throughout the twentieth century have swelled the population dramatically. More recently, the city has benefited from tourism (as visitors flock to Maya archaeological sites) and as a service sector for the new Caribbean resorts of Cancún and Cozumel. In the early 2000s, with a population in excess of a half million, Mérida functions as the unchallenged primary city in the peninsula.

See alsoMaya, The; Yucatán.


Enrique Dulanto, "Apuntes históricos y anecdóticos sobre Mérida," in Artes de Mexico 20, nos. 169-170 (1973): 7-61.

Rodolfo Ruz Ménendez, Mérida, bosquejo biográfico (1983).

Asael T. Hansen and Juan R. Bastarrachea M., Mérida: Su transformación de capital colonial a naciente metrópoli en 1935 (1984).

Allen Wells and Gilbert M. Joseph, "Modernizing Visions, Chilango Blueprints, and Provincial Growing Pains: Mérida at the Turn of the Century," in Mexican Studies/Estudios mexicanos 8 (1992): 167-215.

Additional Bibliography

Peraza Guzmán, Marco Tulio, and Pablo A. Chico Ponce de León. Arquitectura y urbanismo virreinal. Mérida: Unidad de Posgrado e Investigación, Facultad de Arquitectura, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán; Mexico City: Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, 2000.

Reyes Domínguez, Guadalupe. Carnaval en Mérida: Fiesta, espectáculo y ritual. México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia; Mérida: Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, 2003.

Rodríguez, Edgar. Ciudad blanca. Merida: Maldonado editores del mayab, 1999.

Rugeley, Terry. Yucatán's Maya Peasantry and the Origins of the Caste War Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

                                            Allen Wells


views updated May 08 2018


MÉRIDA , city in W. Spain, capital of the ancient Lusitania. Located at an important road junction, it had one of the oldest communities in Spain. A folk legend relates that the Jewish settlement there dated from the arrival of captives brought by Titus after the destruction of the Second Temple; the exiles were "the nobles of Jerusalem … among them there was a maker of curtains [for synagogue arks] by the name of Baruch who was also skilled in silk-work. These people remained in Mérida where they raised families …" (Ibn Daud, Sefer ha-Qabbalah, ed. by G. Cohen (1967), 79). There was a Jewish settlement in Mérida in the late Roman and Visigothic periods. A Jewish tombstone inscription in Latin, probably dating from not later than the fourth century, embodies Latin translations of Hebrew formulas commonly found on Jewish tombstones of the period. After the Arab conquest, there was an important Jewish community in Mérida. Its prominent families included those of Ibn Avitur and Ibn al-Balia.

During Christian rule the Jewish quarter was situated near the Church of Santa Catalina, formerly the synagogue. From 1283 the tax paid by the community was 4,000 maravedis. The Jews in Mérida suffered during the 1391 persecutions, and a *Converso group existed there during the 15th century. However the amount of tax paid by the community in 1439 (2,250 maravedis) shows that it was relatively flourishing. Because of its proximity to the Portuguese border, the exiles from Mérida went to Portugal when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.


Ashtor, Korot, 1 (19662), 230–2; Baer, Urkunden, 2 (1936), index; J.M. Millás, in: Sefarad, 5 (1945), 301ff. (cf. plate between 300–1); C. Roth, ibid., 8 (1948), 391–6; J. Ma. Navascués, ibid., 19 (1959), 78–91; Cantera-Mlliás, Inscripciones, 410ff.; H. Beinart, in: Estudios, 3 (1962), 9f., 14, 27–30; Suárez Fernández, Documentos, 69, 81, 257–7; A. Marcos Pon, in: Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, 32 (1956), 249–52 (It.). add. bibliography: L. García Iglesias, in: Revista de estudios extremeños, 32 (1976), 79–98.

[Haim Beinart]