1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mérida (Mexico)

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MÉRIDA, a city of Mexico and capital of the state of Yucatan, 23 m. by rail S. of Progreso, its port on the Gulf of Mexico. Pop. (1900), 43,630, the Maya element being predominant. Mérida is the centre of an isolated railway system, connected with the ports of Progreso and Campeche, and having short lines radiating in all directions to Peto, Valladolid and Izamal. It stands on a broad, partly open plain near the northern border of the peninsula, where the thin loose soil covering a limestone foundation permits the rapid percolation and evaporation of the rainfall, and therefore supports a comparatively scanty vegetation. It is highly favourable to maguey cultivation, however, and Mérida is the centre of the henequén, or sisal fibre, industry. There is an imposing 16th-century cathedral facing upon the principal plaza, together with the government and episcopal palaces. There are also an old university, with schools of law, medicine and pharmacy, an episcopal seminary and other educational institutions. The most interesting building in the city is a Franciscan convent, dating from 1547, which covers an area of 6 acres and is surrounded by a wall 40 ft. high and 8 ft. thick. It once harboured no less than 2000 friars, but has been allowed to fall into complete decay since the expulsion of the order in 1820. The manufactures include straw hats, hammocks, cigars, soap, cotton fabrics, leather goods, artificial stone, and a peculiar distilled beverage called estabentun. The exports are henequén, or sisal fibre, hides, sugar, rum, chicle and indigo—all products of the vicinity. Mérida was founded in 1542 by the younger Francisco de Montejo on the site of a native city called Tihoo, or Thó, whose stone pyramids furnished building material in abundance for the invaders. It became an episcopal see in 1561.