This is a photo of the street where I live. Interestingly, although I live in the center of colonial Mérida, there is not single authentic colonial building in this image.
I ought to clarify my terminology. To me, "colonial" is something dating from the colonial era, and built by the Spanish before Mexican independence in 1810. Anything newer might be "colonial-style," but it's not truly colonial. The houses in the picture above, including mine, were mostly built within the past 100 years or so on land that probably was a patchwork of cultivated areas and smaller, less-durable structures, such as Mayan houses, in colonial times. There are two or three buildings on the other side of my large block that might be colonials. But the houses in this picture were most likely built when the spacious lots that surrounded most early homes, sometimes called quintas, were subdivided between heirs or sold off as Mérida urbanized in the 19th and 20th centuries.
I started thinking about the obsession with things colonial when I noticed that a house on my block, which has been renovated by a foreign investor as a vacation rental and is now for sale, being advertised as a "200-year-old colonial." The fact is that although the house has a traditional facade, it is a 20th century house, with steel I-beam-supported ceilings, probably built during the 1930s-1950s. The investor had the entire structure demolished except for the facade and front room, and behind this built an ultra-modern two-story home, painted in bright colors. One of the few original interior details that was preserved, a squarish entry arch, is very Yucatecan, but the Spanish never built anything like it during the colonial era.
The same investor also bought another house nearby, which before being altered unrecognizably inside was also a nice traditional Yucatecan structure, but likely not more than 70-90 years old. Now renovated this, too, is being advertised as a "colonial."
|A twentieth-century home recently turned "colonial"|
This Sunday project was a house probably built in the 1940s or 1950s with higher ceilings, nice spacious rooms and a unique, very interesting facade. I saw the owner and asked him what was going on. He told me the facade needed to be "more colonial."
That's too bad, because Mérida has a lush architectural history, of which the colonial era is one aspect. To make it more interesting, many of the true colonials, often very plain structures, were modified with European and Victorian flourishes during the 1880s through the early 1900s hennequen boom when Mérida property owners had lots of money.
|Twentieth century styles|
|Traditional Yucatecan, not colonial|
I can understand the interest in the colonial era. Colonial design is often very beautiful and is functional in this climate, with high ceilings, interior courtyards and large doors and windows. However real colonials in Mérida are not as common as people think. Many are more like my traditional house, which possesses many colonial-style design features, but although it is very Yucatecan, it is not colonial.
Although the colonial influence is still extremely prominent in Yucatán, this region's architectural history is a lot more diverse than that. I think it's sad that fascinating slices of the legacy are being homogenized and lost in the name of this obsession with the "colonial."