Francisco de Montejo founded a Spanish colony at Campeche in 1540. From this base he took advantage of the political dissension among the Mayan civilization, conquering the town of T’ho in 1542. The town was named Merida, for its resemblance to the Spanish town of the same name. By the decade’s end, the Yucatan Peninsula was mostly under Spanish colonial rule.
Merida was built into the regional capital, with most of the Mayan structures dismantled along the way, and many of those materials were utilized to construct a cathedral and other stately buildings. Merida took its colonial orders directly from Spain, not from Mexico City, and the Yucatan has had a distinct cultural and political identity ever since.
During the War of the Castes, only Merida and Campeche were able to hold out against the rebel forces. On the brink of surrender, the ruling class in Merida was saved by reinforcements, which were sent from central Mexico in exchange for Merida’s agreement to take orders from Mexico City.
Today, Merida is the peninsula’s center of commerce, where exquisite museums and Mexican haciendas are at every corner. A bustling city, located close to the ruins of Chichen Itza, Merida has benefited greatly from the assembly plants that opened in the ‘80s and ’90s as well as the tourism industry that picked up during those decades.