French Influence In Merida
France and Merida: a long time relationship
You can walk down Paseo de Montejo in downtown Merida and see the French influence in the architecture: the ornate wrought-iron banisters and window protectors, the beautiful molding on the old mansions, the structure and dignity of the mansions themselves. There are echoes of Parisian taste and design everywhere. As it turns out when Merida was one of, if not the wealthiest city in the world at the turn of the 20th century, many of Merida’s wealthy citizens used their newly found wealth to travel to, learn from and import art, architecture and other amenities from France.
But this was not the first time France and Mexico came into contact. If you study history, you know that the relationships between nations are often defined by the wars fought between them. In the case of France and Mexico, there were two major wars fought between these countries, in large part based on economics, rather than on moral, religious, or other deeply divisive grounds.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were more millionaires in Merida than in any city in the world because of the production of henequen, the raw resource for sisal rope for the shipping industry. This led to wealthy Merida natives sending their children to private schools in Paris and then combining shopping with picking up the children at the end of the school year. Ships would travel to Europe with henequen and rope, and return with French art, artifacts, furniture, and fashions. By this time, the cultural exchange between the two nations was deep and secure.
One of the most iconic amenities in Merida, the Paseo de Montejo, owes its existence and beauty to the French influence in Merida. During the time that the French were beginning to exert their influence on Mexico, the Champs-Elysees was just coming into its own, with new plantings of trees and new importance given to the avenue in Paris. Shortly thereafter, the people of Merida began to take notice and realize that they had all of the right parts and pieces to create their own version of this now world-famous avenue. Today, we are able to enjoy the style and grace of an avenue in Merida that could only have its origins in Paris.
For two centuries, France and Yucatan have both had the good sense to take good care of their relationship. The basis for it began as economic, but cultural ties, especially on the part of France, helped to cement the relationship. Over the past two decades, Yucatan has developed a stronger outreach program than ever before. The next time you see a huge celebration of the French Revolution in July in Merida, and wonder where all those French people came from, know that they have lived here for generations and will continue to do so.