OVERLAYING THE MAYA CITY
MARK CHILDRESS LINDSAY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Mark Childress Lindsay
The expression of appreciation is one of the most satisfying parts of a dissertation
project because the study would not have been possible without the support of others. I
want to acknowledge gratefully two types of support first, support for ideas; second,
material assistance of numerous types.
Faculty members at two universities University of Florida and Universidad
Aut6noma de Yucatan assisted me in focusing on the central ideas with ideas of their
own, debates, and guidance. With their assistance, two significant intellectual pitfalls were
avoided: romanticism of the Spanish conquest and a Eurocentric view of urban syncretism
between two cultures in Merida during the four and one-half centuries since the Indo-
Iberian Encounter. They also guided the structure, argumentation, and graphic quality of
Members of my dissertation committee at the University of Florida were William
Tilson, Chair, Professor of Architecture; Murdo MacLeod, Graduate Research Professor
of History; Raid Garcia, Assistant Professor of Architecture, now in Miami; and Michael
Rabens, Assistant Professor of Architecture. Professor Alfonso PNrez-Mendez, Assistant
Professor of Architecture, was the alternative committee member. Special thanks are due
Dr. Raymond Issa, director of the Ph.D. program; Dr. Richard Schneider, former director,
who interviewed and admitted me to the program; and Kenneth Frampton, architectural
historian at Columbia University and visiting professor at the University of Florida in
Numerous scholars in Mexico and the United States provided support and shaping
for ideas. Special thanks is given to Edgardo Bolio Arceo, director of postgraduate
studies, Facultad de Arquitectura, Universidad Aut6noma de Yucatan, and to Luis Millet
Camara, archaeologist and architectural historian, Instituto Nacional de Arte e Historia,
Merida office. Edgardo Bolio generously gave lengthy time in conversations and reviews
of chapters. He introduced several key concepts and at the same time challenged my
Eurocentric perceptions of key phenomena and historical processes. Other scholars in
Merida who provided indispensable support for ideas were Michel Antochiw, Gin6s
Laucirica Guanche, Aercel Espadas Medina, Dr. Juan Francisco Pe6n Ancona, a Maya
woman anthropologist in Hemeroteca Pino Suirez whose name I lack, and Pablo Chico
Ponce de Le6n. Yucatan's hospitality is a characteristic for which there is documentation
for more than a millennium. That hospitality assisted me in conversations with owners of
historical buildings, directors of historical archives, other faculty members at the Facultad
de Arquitectura of the Universidad Aut6noma de Yucatan, and Maya friends Jorge
Eduardo Dzul Chan and Hernando Castillo, Tixkok6b, Yucatan. Thanks to Ruth
McMurtry for ideas and hospitality at Hacienda YunkU.
Thanks are given to Dr. Marta Espejo-Ponce Hunt, San Diego, California, a
historian of Yucatan, and to Dr. Miguel Bretos, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
D.C., an architectural historian of Yucatan, for correspondences and conversations, the
results of which altered the course of this study. Thanks to Allan Burs, Professor of
Anthropology, University of Florida, and David Forrest, Ph.D., scholar of Mani for ideas
and sources. Finally, acknowledgment is given to Col. John and Terri Ritchie, Chelsea,
Alabama, and to Dede Wood, Birmingham, Alabama, for their assistance to the project.
Birmingham, Alabama, 1999
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .......................................... iii
LIST OF FIGURES ...............................................
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS ............................................
1 INTRODUCTION ............................................. 1
Thesis of the Dissertation ................ .................... 1
M ethodology ................ .............................. 5
Principal Historical Sources ................................... 9
Characteristics of the Research ............ .... ................ 10
N otes ................ .................................. 14
2 THE FOUNDING AND PLANNING OF A SDXTEENTH-CENTURY
SPANISH CITY LAID OVER AN ABANDONED MAYA CITY ...... 16
Characteristic One: A Sequence of Spanish Acts .................... 18
Characteristic Two: Maya Perceptions of Maya and Spanish Merida ..... 25
Characteristic Three: Early Colonial Suburban Periphery.
W as it Concregi6n? ....................................... 28
N otes ...................... ... ...... ... ................ 34
3 COLONIAL MORPHOLOGY OF MERIDA: THE ENCOUNTER
BETWEEN TWO URBAN CONFIGURATIONS .................. 39
Two Patterns in the Spanish Grid at Merida ....................... 39
Part One: The Original Spanish Plan of Merida ..................... 44
Part Two: Anomalies in the Spanish Grid: Evidence of Maya Origins ... 58
Notes .................................................... 72
4 TWO IDEAS OF "CITY" AT SIXTEENTH-CENTURY MERIDA:
SPANISH AND MAYA ...................................... 79
Comparing the Two Ideas of"City" ............................ 79
Part One: Evidence of Ideal Civic Theory in the Spanish Idea of"City" ... 80
Part Two: Adducing the Maya Idea of "City" During the Early
Colonial Period ................... ..................... 93
Notes ............................................ ...... 101
5 THE ATTRACTION OF SPANIARDS TO THE MAYA CITY:
MOTIVES FOR LAYING THE SPANISH CAPITAL OVER
AMAYACITY ............................................ 106
Four Motives ................................... ........ .. 106
Motive One: Attraction of Spaniards to Maya Architecture ........... 107
Motive Two: Evidence for Symbolism ........................... 108
Motive Three: Strategic Motives by Spaniards and Maya
Associated with Spanish Settlement at Tihoo .................... 112
Motive Four: Sustaining the City; An Encounter Between
Spanish and Maya Typologies .............................. 117
Spanish Precedence for Attraction by a Non-European,
Non-Christian Culture ....................... .............. 121
Summary of Chapter ....................... ............... 123
Notes .................................................. 125
6 TWO OTHER PARTS OF THE SPANISH CITY PLAN:
AN INDO-IBERIAN SETTLEMENT PATTERN AND
THE SUBURBAN PERIPHERY ............................... 129
The Spanish City: Three Parts ............................. ... 129
The Ring of Common Lands and Suburbs: The Third Part
of the Spanish Grid ........ ......... ........ .............. 141
Summary of Chapter ........................................ 156
Notes .................................................... 157
7 HISPANIC VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE OF AN EARLY
COLONIAL TYPE .......................................... 161
Types of Data for the Study ................... ............... 162
Characteristic One: Architecture as Shade in a Hot, Tropical Climate .... 164
Characteristic Two: Tectonic Detailing; Frugal Use of Local Materials ... 169
Characteristic Three: A Method for Sustaining Urbanism ............. 226
8 CONCLUSIONS ............................................. 236
BIBLIOGRAPHY ........... ............ ........... ............ 253
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ........................................ 266
LIST OF FIGURES
2.1 M ap ofYucatan .......................... ............. .. 17
3.1 Existing buildings with documented or probable colonial
dates of construction (central Merida) .............. .......... 41
3.2 Reconstruction of the Spanish core of Merida, circa 1610,
showing vestiges ofTihoo ................................ 42
3.3 Repeating block skew and probable surveying sequence
of Spanish crew in 1542 .................................. 48
3.4 Probable plan configuration to accommodate seventy
Spanish households: 5-block by 5-block grid .................... 49
3.5 Comparison between the plans of Merida and
Santiago de los Caballeros, Guatemala ........................ 54
3.6 Comparison of geometries: Buitr6n, Istapa, Montejo's seal ............ 59
3.7 Anomalies of the regular, repeating Spanish grid of Merida ............ 60
3.8 Comparison of existing streets with Maya urban infrastructure ......... 67
3.9 Landa's drawing of the San Benito pyramid utilized as a scale
drawing and laid over the former San Benito .................... 70
6.1 Abal, Yucatan ................ ........................... 131
6.2 Hypothetical periphery of the 500-pace common lands and suburbs ...... 132
6.3 Portion of San Crist6bal neighborhood ........................... 134
6.4 Portion of San Crist6bal neighborhood, showing evidence
of street widening over time ................................ 138
6.5 Porfirian-style house (La Majorada) .......................... 139
6.6 Axonometric view of San Benito complex, based on
1864-5 Map and 1751 drawing of San Benito Citadel ............. 147
6.7 Comparison between urban densities, 1864-5 ...................... 153
7.1 Residential street (San Crist6bal) ......................... .... .. 167
7.2 Portion of street adjacent to San Crist6bal Church, with
street trees, uncommon in modern Merida ...................... 170
7.3 Chapel of the Hospital of San Juan de Dios, built in the
sixteenth century (central Merida) ............................ 175
7.4 Nuns' Convent, built in the sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries (central Merida) ................................. 177
7.5 Tailor's shop and residence (San Crist6bal) ........................ 180
7.6 Juarez building (central Merida) ................................ 183
7.7 Kabah, archaeological site ................................... 185
7.8 Three examples of colonial doorways whose lintels were raised ......... 186
7.9 Portion of doorway, Laundry building (Santa Lucia) ................ 188
7.10 House of the red cross (San Juan).
7.10A Floor plan ................................... 189
7.10B Street facade ............... ................. 190
7.11 "Alfonso L6pez" house (central Merida) .......................... 192
7.12 Juirez building (central Merida) .......... ...................... 194
7.13 Probably colonial house (Mani) ............... ............... 196
7.14 Roof and floor details, colonial types present in Yucatan .............. 198
7.15 Residence (La Mejorada) .................................... 201
7.16 Arcade, Cano building (central Merida) .......................... 202
7.17 Portion of San Juan neighborhood ............................. .205
7.18 House with rubble stone masonry (San Juan).
7.18A Floor plan ................................... 206
7.18B Street facade ..................... ............. 207
7.19 House with cactus landscaping (San Juan).
7.19A Floor plan ...................... ...... .......... 209
7.19B Street facade .................................. 210
7.20 Lugohouse(Izamal) ........................................ 212
7.21 "Leaping Dog" building (central Merida).
7.21A Street facade ................................. 214
7.21B Tectonic ceiling ............................... 215
7.22 Blue house (San Juan).
7.22A Floor plan .................................... 217
7.22B Street facade ................................. 218
7.22C Tectonic ceiling, similar to Montejo house ............. 219
7.23 Shell Oil store (San Juan) ....................... ........... 221
7.24 Woodworking shop (San Juan) ............................... 222
7.25 Welding shop (San Crist6bal).
7.25A Floor plan ..................................... 224
7.25B Street facade ................................... 225
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS
Cuadernos de arquitectura de YucatAn
Institute Nacional de Arte e Historia
Institute Nacional de Estaditica Geografia e Informatica
Mark C. Lindsay, author
Relaciones de Yucatan, volumes 11 and 13 of Colecci6n de documents
indditos relatives al descubrimiento. conquista v organizaci6n de las
antiguas posesiones espaiiolas de ultramar
Universidad Aut6noma de YucatAn
Universidad Nacional Aut6noma de M6xico
Plan topogrifico de la Ciudad de Merida, prepared as instructed by Jos6
Salazar Ilarregui, 1864-5.
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
OVERLAYING THE MAYA CITY
Mark Childress Lindsay
Chair: William Tilson
Major Department: Architecture
This study examines several characteristics of the laying of a provincial Spanish
capital over an existing, abandoned Maya urban center at Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, in
1542. Evidence was found that the Spanish city plan and an associated methodology for
sustaining European-style civilization in a region with few valuable natural resources was
similar in several aspects to comparable planning and sustainable urbanism as practiced by
urban Maya. Late medieval characteristics were found in the Spanish idea of "city," in
their relationship to tributary non-Christian, non-European peoples, and in physical
planning for urban settlement. Numerous characteristics were encountered also of a
parallel Maya idea of "city," concepts of feudal tributary relationships, and associated
ideas and methods for physical planning and architecture.
The methodology for conducting research was shaped by the author's experience
as a practicing architect. Data from historical buildings, both Hispanic and Maya, and
from urban planning geometries from the two cultures studied was compared to traditional
historiographic data. Some evidence was encountered which has not been isolated to
There is evidence that the Hispanic urban fabric has continued through time into
the present to a significant degree and has retained several major characteristics of the
underlying Maya substrate, even though no significant Maya buildings remain intact in the
historical center. There is also evidence for syncretism between Hispanic and Maya urban
fabric, both at the urban scale and at that of early colonial vernacular architecture.
Finally, there is evidence that two important purposes of the urban morphology among
both Spaniards and Maya were planning and design for shading and garden-type
agriculture, both of which characteristics were important in sustaining civilization in
Yucatan's hot, infertile ecology, for Hispanics and for Maya alike.
In addition to it usefulness as a historical study of multi-cultural syncretism in the
context of urban ideas and geometries, this paper has relevance for contemporary
architecture and urban planning. The study of Merida and the continuity of its urban
environment through numerous centuries of occupation demonstrates ideas which have
relevance for developing a methodology for sustainable urbanism in the U. S.
Thesis of the Dissertation
There was an encounter at Merida between two ideas of city and two associated
urban geometries, Spanish and Maya. Part of the function of the resulting built urban
environment was to symbolize and to sustain the Indo-Iberian city. Spaniards settled at
the site of their new colonial capital in 1541. It was on the large, abandoned center of the
Maya city of Tihoo, also called Ich caan si ho, or simply Ho, and is the present site of
Merida. In January 1542, the new Spanish city was formally chartered; the new city
council approved a formal plan which was drawn on parchment; the site was prepared for
surveying; and surveyors laid out the city.
Maya city centers were traditionally seats for cosmological and calendrical ritual,
but when the Spaniards arrived, Tihoo's center was overgrown with brush and trees.
There was evidence that its suburbs contained Maya residents at the time of the Spanish
settlement. Its architecture impressed the Spaniards with its size, crafting, and
This study will demonstrate evidence that the original Spanish city plan was
probably intended to be a regular, repeating grid like numerous other colonial models.
The grid at Merida was rectilinear in most parts, but consisted of a range of block shapes.
The anomalies in the intended grid resulted from the Spaniards laying their grid over that
of the Maya city and selectively incorporating elements of that Maya grid.
The Maya grid was not rectilinear and repeating, as was the Spanish grid. In other
aspects, however, there was evidence of similarities between the two types of cities, that
of the Europeans and that of the Meso-Americans. Further, there was evidence in
Encounter-era chronicles by both Spaniards and Maya that each recognized the settlement
of the other as a "city," within their respective traditions of urbanism. This study explored
two culturally distinct ideas of "city" and the two associated urban geometries. It studied
also the encounter at Merida between those two types of cities and the consequences of
their encounter contained in the historical built environment.
The Spanish and Maya cities were perceived by and utilized by their respective
builders in some similar manners. Monumental urban centers and partly agricultural
vernacular homesteads were common to both urban traditions. The Hispanic land
subdivision pattern was implemented in all parts of the colonial city, although it was
shaped by both Spanish and Maya geometries.
There is physical, geometric, and documentary evidence of two ideas of "city."
Spaniards recognized Maya capitals as "cities" in the Spanish sense. Maya scribes
recognized Merida as a "city." The nature of that recognition is part of this paper.
Transcultural recognition of "city" assisted adduction of the perceived meanings of each
and their association with geometry and architecture. There was evidence in the urban
fabric of two Spanish methods of relating to the Maya city. The first means was
domination; the second was succession. Examples of each type were examined in this
The initial Hispanic settlement pattern and vernacular type of minor civil
architecture became a repeating typology over time. The type was utilized by upward
mobile, Indo-Iberian peoples in the early colonial city's working and middle-class
suburban periphery and was continued after the elite Spaniards had abandoned it for more
elaborate housing. The Hispanic vernacular homesteads were similar to their traditional
Maya counterparts, as will be demonstrated in Chapter 7.
Two successive Spanish capitals occupied the sites of two separate Maya capitals.
Each of the latter was abandoned at the time of Spanish settlement. Spaniards were only
able to settle after forming mutually strategic alliances with regional Maya feudal states.
Those alliances served Maya interests initially, but later Maya scribes regretted the choice.
Merida functioned as a designated Maya capital for ritual and calendar during the colonial
period independently of its function as a Spanish colonial capital. It has remained the
capital of Yucatan continuously to the present time.
The author is a practicing architect and was a Peace Corps Volunteer architect in
Colombia in the late 1960s, immediately after undergraduate education. Colombian cities
and towns with sixteenth-century origins were observed for a phenomenon not present in
contemporary United States urbanism: There was evidence that the traditional urban
centers and central neighborhoods retained prestige and function over time. A visit to
Cuzco, Peru challenged the author's Eurocentric ideas of continuity in urban fabric. The
city demonstrates clear evidence of a Spanish Renaissance city laid over a partly-intact
Inca capital, as shown by surviving street patterns and the architecture from the two
cultures. The two urban fabrics encountered each other as a type of physical syncretism.
Cuzco's built environment implied that two ideas of urbanism had encountered
each other at one location. That phenomenon raised two issues: First, the interaction
between two physical forms of city implied an interaction between two distinct ideas of
"city." Second, the overlay of the Inca city by that of the Spaniards implied that the
Renaissance was philosophically different in nature from its portrayal in the author's
Political unrest in Peru in the 1990s, together with two established U.S. university
programs in Yucatan directed me to study another example of syncretism between two
ideas of"city:" that of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Evidence that Spaniards chose
consciously Maya urban centers as sites for Spanish settlements in the sixteenth century
was the subject of the author's master's research, demonstrating that parts of the Maya
city had been preserved in fact by the Spanish grid.2 Evidence that physical vestiges
remained as parts of the Hispanic city center, together with a range of research by other
scholars, were reasons to focus additional study on Merida, employing data and
methodologies from several disciplines, including architecture, Spanish colonial history,
An underlying assumption of this dissertation was that the physical built
environment of a city was a record of at least two factors. The first was a methodology
for meeting the material needs of citizens and residents. The second was an abstract idea
of "city." This study assumes that not only were the two factors present in the record of
the built environment, but also they influenced each other.
The first relationship examined between a physical urban fabric and a hypothetical
idea of "city" was symbol. As expected, evidence for symbolism of both domination and
succession was adduced from the Spanish act of laying their capital over the abandoned
Maya capital. Evidence was found for other relationships as well. A sixteenth-century
Spanish idea of "city" was encountered. As will be shown, it was based on a concept of
the material "common good" of the designated Spanish citizens, similar to the English
term "commonwealth." There was a paradox between that ideal and the imposition by
Spaniards of themselves as the new lords within an existing Maya feudal system. Evidence
was found also for a corresponding Maya idea of "city," present at the time of the
The research for this work combined architectonic, historiographic, and other
types of data, assisted greatly by the author's architectural experience which has been
based primarily on training in the recognition and manipulation of geometric patterns and
forms in two or three dimensions. Architects are also trained in materials and methods of
construction, which helped the author recognize and examine geometric patterns at an
urban scale in Merida. The examination of geometric patterns at the urban scale was then
cross-referenced with historiographic data and data from other disciplines. An example
was recognition of a grid anomaly at the core of Merida's historical center. A
seventeenth-century historiographic source identified the anomaly as a revision of the
Spanish grid in order to fit it to the existing Maya grid.
Another geometric anomaly required data from the discipline ofarchaeoastronomy
in order to understand the phenomenon. Data from architectural history, anthropology,
Maya studies, and others were also utilized. A perceived geometric pattern with
implications for social, economic, or other patterns was not considered significant if it was
not identified or implied reasonably in written document sources. An interdisciplinary
approach thus contributed to this work's basic research methodology.
The Idea of City
Convincing evidence was found of an idea of "city" in both early colonial Spanish
historical chronicles and surviving Maya documents describing the period of the
Columbian encounter. This study distinguishes between the terms city and "city" as
follows: The adduced and documented perceptions by early colonial Spaniards and Maya
scribes differed from each other and from the contemporary English meanings. The term
"city," in quotation marks, refers to the idea of city present in a selected culture and/or
time frame. The study permitted the author to expand his comprehension of meanings
associated with the idea of "city" by Spanish historical chroniclers.3 (The contemporary
idea of "city" among Spanish speakers is probably different from that of sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century Spanish speakers, but that analysis is outside of the scope of this
An important theme in this dissertation is the distinguishing between cause and
effect. The Spanish idea of "city" was intact already when Spaniards settled at Tihoo.
The Spanish settlement implemented in built form an idea which had evolved elsewhere.
This author's lack of Maya linguistic skills, together with the absence of published
archaeology of the underlying Maya city center, limited the possible scope of examining
that .Maya city.
The physical built environment was part of the methodology employed by
sixteenth-century Spaniards in implementing their "republic," or idealized type of city.
This work demonstrates how the physical city has characteristics of the Spanish republic:
First, its geometry was a symbol of Judeo-Christian civilization. Second, its purpose was
to serve the common good of its designated citizens. Those characteristics shaped the
physical urban fabric. An example was vernacular housing, a type of means of economic
production as well as a type of residence. Those functions served the common good and,
therefore, served the idea of "city." Spaniards recognized selected physical characteristics
in Maya capitals as evidence that those places were "republics" and "cities" in the Spanish
sense. A corresponding Maya perception of physical form was implied in their recognition
of Spanish Merida as a Maya "city."
Characteristics of Merida
The principal distinguishing characteristic of Merida was the layering of two cities
with two culturally-distinct ideas of "city," as described above. Several other
characteristics of Merida shaped this study, as follows: First, the period of settlement was
a time of transition. Spain was in its transition from the late medieval period to the early
Renaissance, similar to but very distinct from northern Europe. Several defining
characteristics of the Spanish settlement can only be understood in the context of the
European late medieval period. An example was the tributary relationship between the
new Spanish lords and their feudal Maya tributaries (see notes to Chapter 5). This work
will examine documentation of Spanish transition from dependency on medievalist tribute
to early modern commercialism as European disease devastated the tributary peoples and
impoverished the Spaniards."
There was a second historical transition. The early colonial abuse by Spaniards of
the conquered peoples in the Caribbean and the near extinction of the native peoples there
caused the reformer Bartolom6 de las Casas to lobby successfully at the Spanish court for
reform. The New Laws, a type of civil rights legislation, implemented in the 1540s, which
in theory protected tributary peoples from Spanish abuses, were implemented during the
same period in which Merida was founded. Either coincidentally or as a result of changing
attitudes, the hostility by Spanish colonists described by Remesal in Guatemala toward Las
Casas was not described in Yucatan's chronicles.5 The hypothesis of this dissertation was
that the issue had already been debated and the Yucatan settlers simply had accepted
Carlos V's reforms. That did not, of course, imply that abuses did not occur in Yucatan,
either during the settlement period or later.
Another characteristic of the Spanish settlement of Merida was its concurrence
with a series of idealized utopian writings and experiences in the Spanish world.6 Among
them were experiments in central Mexico of a idealized social type, based on the visionary
(non-Spanish) Roman Catholic theologians Erasmus, New Testament scholar and critic of
both Protestant and Catholic orthodoxy, and Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia.
Another was a work by a sixteenth-century Spaniard, Fray Alonso de Castrillo, who
produced the only Spanish treatise on urbanism from that century encountered to date.
There was significant evidence of idealized civic theory associated with the Spanish
settlement at Merida, as will be demonstrated in this study.
A final characteristic was ecological. Spanish and Maya systems of settlement and
urbanism in Yucatan both had to cope with ecological limits. Spanish hopes to the
contrary, Yucatan possessed no minerals or metals of special value. The Maya had
previously evolved a methodology to sustain urbanism in Yucatan. Spaniards also
possessed techniques for sustaining urbanism in hot, dry climates.
Yucatan was characterized by a hot, tropical environment without soil capable of
European style cultivation and without surface sources of water. Parallel traditions
existed among both Spaniards and Maya for cultivation in arid landscapes. A significant
part of the methodology employed by both peoples was a type of urban homestead with
irrigated orchards and gardens and a surrounding periphery of lands for grains and
livestock. The Spanish and Maya chronicles implied that, aside from different plants and
animals, the two methodologies were similar in nature.
Principal Historical Sources
This study utilized a set of chronicles by Spanish and Maya scribes as the starting
point for historiographic research. The first group included early colonial Spanish
sources, two of which were written in the sixteenth century, "Report on the City of
Merida," written by Martin de Palomar, and "Report on the Things of Yucatan," by Fray
Diego de Landa. They were published in the same collection of reports, Volumes 11 and
13 of the work Documentos In6ditos de Ultramar, published circa 1580. Those two
volumes described Yucatan and are called also the Reports on Yucatan, (Relaci6n de
Yucatan) or RY. They were responses to a series of questions directed by the king to
selected Spanish landlords in the Yucatan colony. The questions included descriptions of
the colony, its natural resources, and characteristics of the conquered Maya people.
The third Spanish chronicle utilized was Historia de Yucatan, written by Fray
Diego L6pez de Cogolludo in 1656 and published in 1688, describing events in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A fourth work was utilized to compare histories of
Yucatan with contemporaneous events in colonial Guatemala, the General History of
Chiapa and Guatemala, by Fray Antonio de Remesal, published in 1619.
The most useful early colonial chronicle for this study was Cogolludo's Historia de
Yucatan. Detailed descriptions of the founding and planning of Merida were expanded
sometimes by other chronicles, but they introduced no themes not already present in
Cogolludo's work, which documented sources for his descriptions of the city's formal
founding and planning in 1541. The city's records had disappeared, but Cogolludo
obtained a certified copy written in 1578.7
Finally, Fray Alonso de Castrillo's sixteenth-century treatise on urbanism,
Tractado de RepuDblica. published in 1521, contained ideas comparable to central themes
in all Spanish colonial works examined for this dissertation, especially themes by
Cogolludo and Remesal. Castrillo quoted numerous ancient Greek and Roman
philosophers, as well as St. Augustine and other medieval Christian theologians.
Surviving Maya literature included two works, regional variations of the same
work, which described Maya and Spanish Merida: English translations of The Book of
Chilam Balam of Chumayel and The Book ofChilam Balam of Tizimin, translated and
anotated by Munro Edmonson. The oldest surviving manuscripts dated from the first half
of the nineteenth century, but Edmonson cited evidence that they were derived from oral
or written histories with significantly older dates of origin. They described events
beginning in the tenth century, with the most detailed histories describing events starting in
the fifteenth century. The text was poetic in nature, and consisted of both myths and
Characteristics of the Research
The distance in time and culture between sixteenth-century Spaniards and the
contemporary North American author required reconstruction of word meanings which
were probably considered commonplace by sixteenth-century Spaniards. The author's
lack of Maya language skills shaped the research: with Maya language skills, a comparison
between sixteenth-century Maya and Spanish ideas of "city" would have been more
detailed. The author's professional background added a unique dimension to historical
research. As a trained architect, the author was able to recognize patterns in architecture,
in the urban fabric, and in geometric sequences which became useful historiographic data.
That skill may have compensated for not having been a native resident of the city.
There were limitations to each type of available data. One example was limits on
mapping data: The earliest surviving city plan of Merida dated only from the second half
of the nineteenth century. Requests were denied twice for unstated reasons by the city
public works office during two years for access to contemporary engineering plans from
the city public works department for comparison with historical maps.
Demolition of major Maya and colonial buildings during the city's history resulted
in limitations on understanding the colonial and Maya cities. Losses included the principal
pyramid, demolished in the sixteenth century, and San Benito, a layering of historical
buildings including a Maya pyramid, Franciscan monastery, three colonial churches, and a
castle, demolished during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Reconstructions of probable urban configurations depended on historical descriptions;
nineteenth-century photographic archives and historical drawings, the 1864-5
Topographic Plan of Merida, two eighteenth-century drawings of San Benito, and field
data compiled by the author and by other researchers."1
Sources of Special Concepts
Several works or concepts by contemporary scholars were the origins of major
ideas in this study. The concept of the "Indo-Iberian" city and the concept of the survival
of Hispanic vernacular buildings in smaller cities in Yucatan was based on conversations
with Merida architect and scholar Edgardo Bolio during July 1996, June 1997, and July
1998. Several definitive concepts relating to the dates of colonial urban morphology and
building characteristics were based on conversations with Merida archaeologist and
historian Luis Millet in June 1997 and July 1998. The concept ofretardataire
architectural detailing and the risks associated with undocumented dating estimates was
from personal correspondence with Dr. Miguel Bretos, Counselor to the Secretary for
Community Affairs, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The concept of upward mobility and hispanicization of Merida's seventeenth-
century working-class people with few resources was based on the 1974 study by Marta
Espejo-Ponce Hunt, examined in Chapter 7. An understanding of the relationship between
dominant Spaniards and tributary Maya was from the 1984 book by Nancy Farriss. In
particular, her work was utilized to understand sixteenth-century documentation by both
Spaniards and Maya of the alliance between the Maya Xiu and the Spaniards, which
allowed the Spanish city of Merida to be settled.
The probable Maya origins of streets radiating from the former San Benito
complex in Merida were adduced utilizing research in the discipline of archaeoastronomy
published in 1986 by Richard Aveni and Horst Hartung. Finally, medieval origins for parts
of the Spanish idea of "city" were understood principally based on works by Thomas Glick
(1979) and David Vassberg (1984). The guidance of the dissertation committee,
especially Chair William Tilson and historian Murdo MacLeod, were essential in shaping
and editing ideas.
Historiographic methodology employed in this paper was of the traditional type, as
examined and described in the 1984 work Justifying Historical Descriptions, by C. Behan
McCullagh, which contains the most reasoned theory of historiographic methods
encountered to date. McCullagh described several methods which can be used to
demonstrate the probable truth of a historical hypothesis which he calls "justification of
historical descriptions". Two of McCullagh's methods were used in this work first,
"arguments to the best explanation," in which the hypothesis "must be of greater
explanatory scope; greater explanatory power; more plausible; less ad hoc than others;
disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs and it must be so explanatory that there is little
chance of revision;" and second, justifying singular descriptions with the use of statistical
inferences.' Generally, the historiographic method utilized herein was based on a rigorous
method for questioning available evidence, similar to that described by McCullagh.
1. An example was the statement by Fray Diego de Landa, "If Yucatan were ever to
gain fame and reputation for the quantity, grandeur, and beauty of [its Maya]
buildings, as have achieve other parts of the Indies with gold, silver, and riches, it
would extend its [fame] as did Peru and central Mexico, because in the matter of
buildings and their quantities it is the most remarkable of all the things discovered to
date in the Indies .." "Report on the Things of Yucatan" (Y 13:354).
2. Mark C. Lindsay, "Sixteenth-Century Urbanism in Yucatan: The Settlement,
Founding, and Planning of Campeche, Merida, and Valladolid," master's thesis,
University of Alabama, 1994.
3. Variations of a historical idea of "city" are described in or were adduced from a wide
range of sources. They include medieval Spanish chronicles of the conquest of
Muslim Valencia in the eleventh and thirteenth centuries and medieval urban charters.
A series of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish sources were examined and
were the principle historiographic sources. One of them was an early sixteenth-
century Spanish treatise on urbanism. In the Spanish sources were evidence of both
late medieval and Renaissance ideas.
Another group of sources focused on Maya civilization, including Maya historical
documentation of the encounter between Maya and Spanish urbanism and ideas of
"city." That series of sources were interdisciplinary and included works by
anthropologists, and archaeoastronomers. A final series was secondary sources in the
fields of history, architecture, and urbanism, which included tests, photographic, and
other graphic archives.
4. The economic impact on Spaniards as a consequence of the devastating mortality rate
among Maya serf worker peoples was documented by Juan de Urrutia (circa 1580) in
"The Townships of Chuaca and Chechimila" (RY 13:68).
5. Fray Antonio de Remesal described Spanish hostility to Bartolom6 de las Casas, the
sixteenth-century reformer, in his work Historia general de las indias occidentales v
particular de la gubemaci6n de Chiapa v Guatemala (orig. pub. 1619. Repub.
Mexico: Editorial Porria, S. A., 1988). At one point Las Casas feared a death threat
against himself (H:43). Remesal reproduced a letter from the King to Las Casas in
1549 which recognized the "persecution" which Las Casas had experienced in his
service to the Mesoamerican peoples (11:240).
6. Experiments of idealized social and physical types in sixteenth-century Mexico,
inspired by the ideas of Erasmus and More, are described in the work by Guillermo
Tovar de Teresa, Miguel Le6n-Portilla, and Silvio Zavala, La Utopia Mexicana del
Siglo XVI (M6xico: Arte Novohispano, Grupo Azbache, 1992). The sixteenth-
century treatise on urbanism is by Fray Alonso de Castrillo, Tractado de Reptiblica,
written 1521 (Repub. Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Politicos, 1958).
7. Fray Diego L6pez de Cogolludo, Historia de Yucatan (Orig. pub. in 1688. Republ.
Campeche: Comisi6n de Historia, 1954), 2 vols, 1:256.
8. C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying historical descriptions (NY: Cambridge University
Press, 1984) defined "arguments to the best explanation," 15-44. He described
statistical inferences, 45-73.
THE FOUNDING AND PLANNING OF A SIXTEENTH-CENTURY
SPANISH CITY LAID OVER AN ABANDONED MAYA CITY
Merida, which was the third Spanish capital city for the province of Yucatan, was
settled permanently at the site of an abandoned Maya "cycle city," or capital, by the son of
the Adelantado, or King's delegated colonial colonizer, Francisco de Montejo. The
permanent settlement by Spaniards had three significant characteristics which will be
examined in this chapter. They were examined together because of historiographic
evidence that the characteristics were factors which acted on each other, as perceived by
both the Maya and the Spaniards at the time of their encounter. The first characteristic
was the presence among the Spaniards of a conscious sequence of acts which defined the
formal founding of the Spanish city. The second was the continuing perception by Maya
that the city retained a Maya nature, a special function within Maya society, and a
relationship with Spaniards based upon the Maya welcoming Spaniards to Yucatan and
being in alliance with them. The third was the relationship of Maya tributary serf peoples
in suburban neighborhoods to the Spanish feudal lords in the center. There was
contradictory evidence of two types which was examined to determine if the mostly Meso-
American suburbs of sixteenth-century Merida were or not in fact a type of congregacion,
a voluntary or forced relocation of tributary peoples for idealized motives.
Map of Yucatan.
Characteristic One: A Sequence of Spanish Acts
The founding of the Spanish city consisted of a series of acts whose purpose was
to expand late medieval feudalism, increase the number of Roman Catholic people, and
implement idealized civic theories at an actual site. A consistent theme in the motives was
the concept of "common good" and "republic." The meanings implied by those terms was
examined in Chapter 4.
The process of founding the city, as described in the chronicles, was authorized by
two documents. The first was a decree issued by the King to Montejo the elder in 1526
which granted Montejo the right and duty to "discover, conquer, and settle ... and build
two fortresses.. .". Montejo was instructed to establish settlements of no less than one
hundred men at locations which he would choose.' Montejo was to grant to the settlers
"settlements [sus vecindades], and two measures of [rural] land [caballerias de tierra]
and two urban house lots." After four years of residence, the settlers would then own
legally the land and possess the right to sell it. Half of the crown revenues for five years
would be spent on hospitals and public works.2
The second document which authorized Spanish colonization was written
instructions from Montejo the elder to his son in 1539, delegating and instructing him to
found and settle Merida. First, he instructed his son to establish a city council and
municipal government for a "town and city.. ." He then instructed the son to grant
feudal labor and tribute privileges (repartimiento) to no fewer than one hundred citizens in
order that they would possess sufficient military strength to maintain domination of the
Maya peoples.3 By using the term city, the instructions implied that the settlement was
designated as the capital, as will be examined in another section.
Finally, Montejo the son was to make certain that all citizens built their houses and
granjerias [enterprises] and labranzas [farms].. ."4 The description of "enterprises and
farms" documented one economic motive of the colony. It implied that feudal tribute
received from conquered Maya serf workers was not intended to be the only sustenance of
the daily needs.
Establishment of a Temporary Spanish Settlement, a Strategic Alliance, and a Battle
The following is a brief historical review based principally on narratives by
Cogolludo and Chamberlain. Its purpose is to show acts by Maya and Spaniards which
influenced the Spanish settlement at Maya Tihoo. Since the laying ofMerida over Tihoo
influenced the city's urban fabric, it is relevant data for this paper.
The Spaniards secured the region of Tihoo militarily in 1541; occupied the
abandoned Maya city; and established a watch tower on top of the principal pyramid.
They were then approached by a large delegation of Maya bearing a great gift of food.
The group was led by Tutul Xiu, Maya feudal lord of Mani, who had assisted Montejo the
elder in the settlement ofChichen Itza in 1533.5 Tutul Xiu made a great gesture of
humility upon the steps of the pyramid in front of Montejo the son; he offered friendship
with the Spaniards and obedience to the Spanish king; to the astonishment of the
Spaniards, he then expressed a desire to convert to Christianity. The visit coincided with
the Christian holy day of San Ildefonso, since it was a holy day, Cogolludo implied that
there had been divine intervention. The purpose probably was less religious than strategic:
advantageous alliances were a continuing pattern among warring rival Maya city states in
the period after the collapse of the unified post-classic Maya state whose capital was
The Spaniards accepted the friendship of the Maya of Mani on that "happy day."
They and their new Maya allies then celebrated their alliance for three days with a festive
hunt. During the festivities, envoys of the Xiu, sent to nearby Sotuta, were murdered by
the leaders of the Cocoms, a rival lineage in eastern Yucatan. The enemies of the Xiu then
proceeded to attack the Spanish settlement with between forty and sixty thousand troops.
The battle coincided with another Spanish holy day, that of San Bernabe. Superior
Spanish technology defeated the Maya army with great loss of life among the latter.
Spaniards celebrated the victory, which was the decisive military battle associated with
A Series of Acts
First Act: Founding the City
The Spanish city of Merida was formally founded on January 6, 1542, the religious
Festival of the Holy Kings. The act consisted of several parts. First, the legitimacy of the
authority to found the city was justified by Montejo the son, who recorded legally a text in
the presence of the designated scribe which documented the founding of the city "in the
name of and for the service of the King."' That text described how he was authorized by
his father to found and construct a city of one hundred citizens; officially bestow the name
of the city; and perform a religious dedication to Our Lady of the Incarnation. He
concluded that his act was at the service of the Deity, His Majesty, and "the good of the
The second part was the endowment of its name, "City of Merida," and the
invocation of religious sanction by naming the city in honor of a saint, Our Lady of the
Incarnation. The act included also selection of a site on which to found a church, ". .. in
the best [place] in the layout."10 The church location in the "best place" implied that an
idea of the physical plan was already present, at least in conceptual form. The final part of
the act was the organization of the new municipal government:
"He [Montejo] named [two people] as the first judges alcaldess or
"mayors"]; twelve councilmen... The chief justice [then] gave the 'staffs'
to the alcaldes and then to the council members .. ."
People were named to the posts of scribe, custodians, field overseer, attorney general and
Several statements in the description implied that a new Spanish municipality was
designated by the term "republic." Other descriptions implied that a characteristic of a
"republic" was to serve the "common good." When the founding activities were
complete, Cogolludo described the city as a "formed republic." In another, he stated that
"the republic of Merida had been established .. .""
The relationship between the terms was implied in the statement that "nothing is
lacking in a republic which celebrates the common good." Four councilmen were named
at the formal founding and charged with "giving much attention to the common
good .. ."" The inference that "republic" and "common good" were associated in
meaning and that the meaning corresponded with the term "commonwealth" was
consistent with Castrillo's treatise on urbanism and "republics," published in 1521 and
referenced previously. That comparison is the subject of another chapter.
Second Act: Implementation of the "Republic"
The new municipal government implemented an initial series of decrees to promote
the common good. In one, the council decreed that no one could enter the city with arms
"for offense."" In the second was another means of promoting the common good of the
citizens: Since the city was beginning to "enjoy tranquility," the council approved
methods to punish wrongdoers. It authorized a public gallows and a "knife of
punishment," which were announced by the town crier "in a loud voice."16 Those
examples demonstrated that part of the function of the city government was to protect the
citizens and to promote the common good. They were similar to portions of medieval
Spanish charters, examples of which are cited in Chapter 4.
Another of the initial decrees by the city council requested a formal city plan. The
permanent construction of the city was "not hurried" in order to avoid antagonizing both
Maya allies and Maya enemies. The stated reason for implementing a city plan was to
allow building construction of "the best design possible," since the citizens "suffered much
discomfort by living in shacks, as in a military camp." That reason implied that the
"common good" was the motivation."
The cause of the impermanent quality of the buildings was a fear of being at risk.
As a result, "on the 29th of December the city council met and requested of Francisco de
Montejo [son] that a city plan be mandated by the council "so that the citizens could build
houses and residences... with no risk."" The only reasonable inference from the text
was that, in the absence of a city plan surveyed into being on the ground, people who
constructed buildings were at risk that their buildings would be either on the property of
another or would be in the public right-of-way; it was, therefore, an issue of the common
good of the citizens.
Third Act: Presentation of a Graphic City Plan
Montejo the son responded to the council request for a plan. He:
"took out a large parchment (pergamino grande) which carried a
drawing of the city donee traia dibujada la cuidad), signed his name, and
submitted it to the cabildo. It carried the name of each [citizen] in the
house lot designated for that person. Later five hundred paces was
assigned at the perimeter for the common-use garden greenbelt lands (ejido
y arrabal), with the condition that it could be enlarged if needed; later it
was mandated that no one could build in that space, on pain of losing
[personal access] to it.. ."9
The author of the plan was unstated since it was already drawn when presented;
since Cogolludo credited Montejo typically with acts performed by him, the text implied
that the drawing was drawn by another person. There was evidence by implication of a
possibility that Montejo the elder produced the plan, as shown in the end note.20
Cogolludo stated that the plan was "ordered," with streets which were wide, equal
and straight. City blocks contained four house lots. The grid was
". .., divided into equal blocks ... In the middle of this is the
principal plaza... It is entered from eight straight streets, two to the east,
two to the west,.. .north, and ... south, equally proportioned."21
The only reasonable explanation for the description was that it was a regular,
repeating, rectilinear grid, centered on a plaza and with square blocks. As stated, each
block was divided into four lots. Cogolludo did not state the number of blocks surveyed,
or describe the limits of the original layout. The latter characteristics are examined in
detail further in another chapter.
The second significant characteristic of the physical plan was the peripheral district
which was dedicated to the uses of common lands and suburb. It was 500 paces (pasos)
in width. Its existence through history was documented by brief verbal references and
some graphic documents and is examined in another chapter. The following is a
recapitulation of its characteristics: The suburban periphery was present probably through
Merida's colonial history as a ring of neighborhoods and religious functions, including the
San Benito citadel complex. There were no additional references to common land (ejidos)
after 1542; Cogolludo documented that the city possessed no municipal lands (propios) by
Second, its principal characteristic was its low density and vegetated nature,
probably caused to a significant degree by traditional Maya homestead gardens and
orchards, as described in Chapter 6. There is evidence that it was surrounded by a wider
ring of grain lands and pastures. The pattern was probably similar to the image described
for Moorish Valencia by Spaniards in the middle ages, at the time of the Spanish
reconquest. Third, it continued to serve the common good of the city indirectly; Maya
and Hispanic household gardens probably provided produce to the city by way of street
vendors and public markets in the colonial period as they continue to do in the 1990s.2
Fourth Act: Surveying the City
The formal plan possessed popular support among the citizens. Because of that
support, the city council notified the public with a town crier that all those who had lots in
the city layout were to clean and clear them within twenty days, "... in order that the
appointed ones [diputados] could measure the city and orient it with a compass [medir la
ciudady compasarla]." The planned grid, according to Cogulludo, gave the citizens
"great pleasure" because of the design of its grid, which provided streets which were
"wide, equal, and straight." By implication, the perceived common welfare of the citizens
was, therefore, served.24
The site was then prepared for the delegated surveying team. Cogolludo described
field conditions at the site of Merida. In preparation for the survey, the site was to be
"cleared of growth (desmontado)". The site contained Maya ruins; Cogolludo stated that
the "principal pyramid was one of many that had been made by hand." The principal
pyramid was "full of trees and brush."25 As stated, a war with Maya enemies had just been
concluded, which implied that continued insecurity might have been present. The
surveying methodology is examined in Chapter 3.
Maya Perceptions of Maya and Spanish Merida
Maya observers documented Merida's perceived function as a Maya city after the
Spanish settlement. The Maya historical source which contained the most extensive and
detailed descriptions of Spanish settlement at Merida was the Book of Chilam Balam of
Chumayel. Maya chroniclers observed and documented the Spanish occupation and
settlement of Tihoo/Merida. The surviving manuscript was written in the first half of the
nineteenth century; it recorded events in historical form as early as the eighth century A.D.
Extensive descriptions began for the fifteenth century, with dates as correlated to the
Maya calendar by translator Edmonson. The surviving manuscript was recopied probably
from much older written or oral sources. The Maya work was organized into time periods
which corresponded to cosmological cycles related to the Maya calendar. Edmonson
correlated Maya dates with the European calendar and stated that the exact dates of those
cycles were disputed among the Maya. Some cannot be verified by modem scholars.26
The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel was written by and for Maya peoples in
the western part of Yucatan, dominated by the Xiu noble lineage. Tihoo/Merida was
within their area of dominance.2 This section will demonstrate evidence that the Maya
text implied that European settlement there served the political purposes of the Xiu. It
fulfilled also a prophetic change in religious faith.
The alliance between Spaniards and Xiu Maya was seen by the scholar Farriss as
being beneficial to the Xiu within a continuing pattern of rivalry among Maya city states
and regional confederations. Xiu motives were, therefore, independent of the political and
evangelical motives of the Spanish crown. The Xiu utilized the alliance with Spaniards
therefore for strategic reasons even as Spaniards utilized it for Spanish purposes.28
The Chumayel text described the Maya city as possessing calendrical/religious
prestige at the time of the European encounter: "[Ich caan ci hoo] was the seat of the
[calendar cycle called] katun at the arrival of the foreigners, the bearded ones who
came from the east.. .". The Xiu people accepted Spanish settlement at Merida and
accepted also the religious faith of the Spaniards: "Coming are our older brothers, the
people of the capital [Merida, per Edmonson note]. Accept and welcome them, the
bearded people ... the diviners with the sign of God."29
The Chumayel text implied a change in the fabric of cities as well as recording dual
taxation. "They will enter into Christianity: the great towns and the settlements of
householders, the great people of the towns.. .". "The whole of this country of ours has
the expense of the cycle seat and cycle tribute.. ."3
The text described afterwards Spanish exploitation:
"[The arrival of the Spaniards was] the beginning of the creation of
many factions, the beginning of forced seizure for debts,... the beginning
of forced labor for the Spaniards, ... These were the very poor who did
not rebel at the oppression that was inflicted on them... This was the
Antichrist here on earth."31
The Chumayel text contained a probable description of the relocation by
Franciscan monks, either voluntary or coerced, of Maya peoples from traditional
townships into new, Spanish styled towns with rectilinear grids centered on churches,
called congregaci6n: "And the fathers of our souls [Franciscans?] came, and brought
together the towns, which were divided into factions .. ."32 The description in the
Chumayel text was significantly less critical of the forced relocations than were Spaniards
who described it, examples of which are quoted in another section.
Maya Interest in Spanish Architecture
The Chumayel text described also Spanish architecture. Maya interest in Spanish
architecture was parallel to Spanish interest in Maya architecture, which is demonstrated
elsewhere in this paper. The Maya text stated, "[The fathers of our souls] began...
erecting and decorating the house of God ... piles of work in the middle of town. .".
"There will arrive the fathers of the god house that is in the center of the town of
Merida.. ."" The text described also the laying out of a church; the text implied that
Maya builders performed the work: "On 13 ch 'en (13) Eb there occurred the pacing of the
great church in the 4 Akab House, the great church in heaven. Thus it was paced off."'
Merida's Prestige as a Maya City after the Spanish Occupation
The Maya text continued to perceive Merida as a Maya city of significant prestige
during the colonial period. Its prestige was associated with its function as a religious
center for both the old and the new religions. The phrasing was poetic in nature, but a
perception of prestige was clear, as demonstrated below.
One narrative compared the cities of Campech (Campeche), Calkini, Ytzmal
(Izamal), Conkal and Tihoo (Merida) during the seventeenth century. It stated, "The
middle city of Merida is the primate church, the fiery house."35 During part of the
sixteenth century, Merida was the seat of the katun, a calendrical cycle of religious and
cosmological significance. The text stated, At Heaven Born Merida, Yax haal was lord
. Descended from heaven will be its perfume. Sounded will be its drum,... That the
great one might be installed.""
Early Colonial Suburban Periphery. Was It Congregacidn?
The description of the suburban periphery and other evidence implied a possibility
that the suburban district was in fact, if not in theory, a type of congregaci6n at the capital.
The most convincing evidence was from the nature of its urban form, as documented by
the chronicles. A group of semi-self governing townships designated for Meso-American
peoples, including Nahua-speaking allies of the Spaniards, existed within the suburban
periphery and outside of it. They were a type of social/ethnic segregation which resulted
from the idealistic program of Franciscans to limit exploitation of tributary Maya peoples
by Spanish feudal lords. They were described in works by scholars Hunt and Farriss. The
presence of Meso-Americans there may have predated the Encounter. Research by the
scholar Restall demonstrated the probability that Maya townships existed within that
district prior to the European settlement. That there were Maya living in Santiago prior to
Spanish settlement was an oral tradition in Merida."3
The suburban periphery was surveyed into a grid of narrow lanes to match the
Spanish core by 1865, as documented by the 1864-5 Topographic Map of Merida. An
examination by this author of the built environment found no architectonic evidence that a
Maya settlement pattern was present, except at those anomalies documented elsewhere in
this paper. The best explanation was that the configuration of those narrow lanes was
Hispanic, not Maya, based on the absence of checkerboard grids in pre-Encounter Maya
cities. The lanes were, therefore, probably Hispanic, and were widened during the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The resulting suburban configuration, together with its
associated churches and plazas, matched the morphology of congregaci6n townships, as
Congregaci6n: Idealistic Purpose; Devastating Results
The phenomenon of congregacidn was the forced relocation of Maya peoples from
traditional towns and rural areas into Spanish-style grid townships surrounding churches.
The purpose was idealized and was implemented typically by religious orders. It
facilitated social control, evangelization, tax collection, and assimilation into the Hispanic
mainstream. It was at least coincidental with the reforms of the New Laws, a civil rights
program which originated with the reformer Fray Bartolomd de las Casas.3
A sympathetic history of the process of congregaci6n was found in Remesal's
History of Guatemala. Remesal quoted Felipe II's instructions to the viceroy of New
Spain in 1595: "The Indians have been relocated into towns in order to be more
comfortably served for religious doctrine, maintained in justice, and to live in company
with people of reason.. ."3
Remesal stated that the process was introduced in Chiapas by monks utilizing a
methodology of attraction to the idea in lieu of coercion. Under the royal judge Gonzalo
Hidalgo de Montemayor, the following occurred:
"... the fathers began to try to combine the villages and put them
in the form of a 'sociable' republic in order that [the residents] could attend
mass more quickly and have their needs for government met. [a repeating
grid was laid out around a plaza on which fronted a church] ...
[Unfortunately] the Indians did not want to remain in it, because
this nation loves its shacks ... [and] the woods where they were born ...
The fathers began little by little, and with much tact tried to convince them
... because this did not need to be done with force, but because the people
The passage clearly described the idealized motives associated with the civic theory of
"republics." It described also the lack of desire by the tributary peoples to be a part of the
There were several descriptions of the results of the experiment as perceived by
secular Spaniards in Yucatan. The following was a description of congregaci6n at Chuaca
by the mayor ofValladolid, Bartolomd Martinez Espinal:
"Spanish friars depopulated the town, gathering the people into a
new township around the Spanish chapel... they died and many fled ...
there were only twenty Indians at the new township .. ."4
There was a description of congregaci6n by another lay Spaniard in RY:
"In order that it be understood what the great diminishment among
these Indians has brought, [I hereby state] that the labor grants to
[Spaniards] have not been worked, [which is important] because in this
land there are no gold or silver mines... Their complete destruction has
been [caused] by their being moved from their traditional locations,
reducing many towns to one, and this [done with] too much and too
barbarous rigor [by the Franciscans]."42
The narratives implied two opposing social programs: Franciscans sought to
assimilate Maya peoples into Hispanic culture and religion; lay Spaniards were principally
interested in the health of feudal tributaries for motives of personal income. Regardless of
those motives, the Maya mortality and flight in eastern Yucatan was clearly documented.
Absence of Historiographic Evidence for Congregaci6n at Merida
The lack of descriptions at Merida similar to those for Valladolid de Chuaca was
evidence that congregaci6n probably did not exist at Merida. The chronicles did,
however, imply that other aspects of Spanish colonialism were present. There was in them
a clear reference to feudal labor and tribute duties on the parts of the subject peoples; the
following was an example by Martin de Palomar:
"The commercial trade in this land is in cotton cloth and wax which
the Indians give to Your Majesty and to the landlords in tribute, and with
these they pay for merchandise.. ."43
There was also a description of Christian religious practice in the Maya townships
"... there are eight or ten priests who minister to the native
peoples in the towns closest to this city.. ."44
There was other historical evidence which implied that the suburban periphery of
Maya townships did not constitute a type of congregaci6n. The neighborhood of San
Crist6bal was adjacent to the Franciscan monastery, which was a part of the probable
dedicated periphery. It was the documented residence of Nahuatl-speaking allies of the
Spaniards in the conquest, who settled there with the Spaniards after 1541. Cogolludo
described it as the "best neighborhood for native peoples in the city." There was no
reference to resettlement for reasons of evangelism or "republic."45
The best explanation was that the suburban periphery did not have origins as a
congregaci6n, for the following reasons: A settlement of Nahuatl allies had probably little
similarity to a resettlement of conquered Maya town folk or rural peoples. Cogolludo
described the resettlement and resulting deaths and flight at Chuaca but not at Merida.
Cogolludo's precision in numerous descriptions implied that the absence of reference to
congregaci6n at Merida probably coincided with reality. That absence is, therefore,
reasonable justification that congregaci6n did not exist at Merida as an official policy of
resettlement. There is no documentation to date which contradicts that assessment.
Restall stated that San Juan and Santa Lucia, the remaining neighborhoods within
the probable designated periphery, were Spanish, not Maya, in terms of documented Maya
self-government. Palomar described the chapels of San Juan and Santa Lucia in c. 1579 as
being "outside of the city."" Palomar frequently identified Maya people in his narrative.
The absence of such identification with those chapels implied that any community nearby
was not noteworthy, and, therefore, probably Spanish. Finally, there was no reference to
congregaci6n in Hunt's descriptions of those neighborhoods in the seventeenth century.
Analysis of the Probability of a Link with Congregaci6n
The best explanation of the data was that congregaci6n was present at Chuaca and
absent at Merida. There were three variables associated with its presence. First, the two
cities were founded by two distinct individuals. Merida was founded by Montejo the son;
Valladolid was founded by his cousin. There were documented differences in the
settlement process at each site. Principally, Merida was laid over an existing capital;
neither of Valladolid's two sites was a capital. The first site for the latter city was near a
coastal Maya market town; the second was laid over an occupied provincial city whose
defeated inhabitants were expelled. The differences between the sites for the two Spanish
cities implied that personal preferences of the founders could override details in the
The second variable was the reporting of the acts in the chronicles. It was possible
that Cogolludo and Palomar omitted references to congregaci6n at Merida for unknown
reasons. Since Cogolludo was a Franciscan, there was reason for him to gloss over
harmful aspects of a church policy. Since he was candid about the negative results, and
since his assessment resembled Palomar's, then reporting by each was, therefore, probably
The third variable was the presence of monumental Maya buildings at Merida
where there was no documentation of congregaci6n. Conversely, there were no
monumental Maya buildings at the Spanish site for Chuaca; there, congregaci6n was
imposed." There was not sufficient data to determine if the presence of those buildings
was a cause or was only a coincidence. Given Spanish attraction to those buildings, a link
between the two phenomena was at least implied.
Usually architectonic evidence supported other historiographic data. For the
determination of a presence of congregaci6n in Merida, the architectonic data implied the
presence of congregaci6n and, therefore, contradicted that of other types.
Historiographical sources implied that there was probably no official congregaci6n activity
in Merida. Because of the conflicting data, the need for more research is implied.
1. King Carlos V's instructed Montejo in "Capitulaci6n celebrada en Granada, a 8 de
diciembre de 1526 entire Carlos V y Francisco de Montejo, para la conquista y
colonizaci6n de Yucatan," republ. by Eligio Ancona in "Document Number 2," in
Historia de Yucatin desde la bpoca mas remota hasta nuestros dias (Barcelona: Jaime
Jepus Roviralta, 1889), Vol. 1, Appendices 1:390.
2. Ibid., 1: 393.
3. Robert S. Chamberlain quoted Montejo the elder's instructions to his son in The
Conquest and Colonization of Yucatan 1517-1550 (Baltimore: The Lord Baltimore
Press, 1948). There were ten items (197-9). Item Five described the establishment of
a city administration without, however, enough detail to compare with Castrillo's
concepts. Item Seven stipulated that there had to be one hundred settlers, owuing to
the need for military defense. Division of the territory into feudal lordships, called
"repartimiento," was to be made. Grants of feudal territories were to be given to the
one hundred settlers, to Montejo the elder, and to any others chosen by the king
4. Item Ten of Montejo's instructions, quoted by Chamberlain, described how
enterprises and farms were to be built by the citizens (198).
5. Cogolludo described the Spanish camp and the visit by Tutul Xiu (1:258-9). Landa
stated that subjects of Tutul assisted Montejo the elder in establishing that settlement
in or about 1526 RY, 13:298).
6. Nancy M. Farriss, Maya Society under Colonial Rule (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1984) 24-5.
7. Cogolludo, I: 258-265.
8. Ibid., 1:265.
9. Ibid., I:266.
10. Ibid., 1:266.
11. Ibid., 1:266-7.
12. Ibid., 1:267.
13. Merida was a "formed republic" (Ibid., 1:268). The "republic of Merida" was
established (Ibid., 1:277).
14. Merida was a republic which "celebrated the common good" (Ibid., 1:271). Four
councilmen were named to attend to the "common good" (Ibid., 1:267).
15. Cogolludo, 1:271.
16. Ibid., 1:268.
17. The material living conditions of the citizens were a part of the physical common
welfare. It was, therefore, a part of the "common good" (Ibid., 1:268).
18. Ibid., 1:271.
20. Cogolludo's narrative demonstrated his intention to assign clearly responsibilities and
credits for personal acts. An example was the explicit description of legal justification
to found Merida, with statements quoted from the King, Montejo the elder and
Montejo the son. Since Cogolludo explicitly omitted crediting the son for the
drawing, it can be inferred reasonably that the son did not draw it.
There was a description of the King's approval in 1523 of a design for a coat of arms
submitted by Montejo for Veracruz, a city of which he was one of the first two
mayors. That act implied a possibility that Montejo designed that emblem, which
contained a pattern of stars, as did his seal, although the patterns were dissimilar. It
was described in the work by Manuel B. Trens, Historia de la H. Ciudad de Veracruz
y de su avuntamiento (M6xico: Ayuntamiento de Veracruz, 1955), 15-18. His seal is
illustrated in another chapter. If Montejo designed such an emblem then a possibility
could be reasonably inferred that he designed and drew the city plan for Merida. That
possibility was discussed with Merida historian Dr. Juan Francisco Pe6n Ancona on
July 9, 1998, at the Hemeroteca of the Diario de Yucatan, in Merida. Dr. Pe6n had a
special interest in Spanish colonial heraldic insignias. He stated his opinion that it was
very unlikely that Montejo designed any type of graphic insignia or city plan. Dr.
Pe6n stated that they all originated probably in Spain.
21. Cogolludo stated that the plan was "ordered; blocks contained four lots (1:283). The
blocks were equal; the grid was centered on the plaza" (Ibid., 1:365).
22. Cogolludo described the dedicated periphery (1:27). The city possessed no municipal
23. Martin de Palomar described the advantages of the surrounding pasture lands (circa
1580) in "Report on the City ofMerida" (RY~ 11:48). Hunt demonstrated the
function of livestock ranches surrounding the city as the economic engine for
seventeenth-century Merida (372-464). El Cid and his wife observed the rich
agricultural lands surrounding conquered Valencia in the eleventh century, in Poem of
the Cid, transl. by W. S. Merwin (NY: Las Americas and Cypress Books, 1960), 161.
MCL observed numerous street vendors selling small amounts of fresh fruits or
vegetables, seated typically at doorways in the market district ofMerida during field
research in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Vendors were typically older women or very
young women. Many purchases of such produce were observed along the densely
crowded streets of that district. The market district was an example of continuity of a
documented colonial function: The late colonial grain and fish markets faced the
former San Benito open space; their buildings are still in service as markets, although
not for foodstuffs. Espadas documented the late eighteenth-century construction
dates of the two surviving market buildings (74).
24. Cogolludo, 1:283.
26. Heaven Born Merida and Its Destiny: The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, trans.
and annotated by Munro E. Edmonson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986).
The text of the surviving Chumayel manuscript was written between 1824 and 1837
(Chumayel, 2). Edmonson summarized and examined historical descriptions in the
Maya text which corresponded to the tenth through the nineteenth centuries (Ibid.,
Edmonson describes the dispute between Maya Xiu and Itza lineages over the exact
beginning of the cycle (Chumayel, 9). He stated his belief that the cycle began on "1
Kan," indicating lack of agreement among modern scholars about the dates of cycles
(Ibid., 6). The earliest fragment of the Chumayel text observed by him was dated
1556, as stated in The Ancient Future of the Itza. The Book ofChilam Balam of
Tizimin, trans. and annotated by Edmonson (Austin: University of Texas Press,
27. Edmonson describes the regional affiliation of the western Xiu Maya with the
Chumayel text. Ibid., 2. He described the political relationship between Merida and
the Xiu region (Chumavel, 37-47).
28. Farriss described Xiu motives for the alliance with the Spaniards (20-25). Cogolludo
described the Spanish/Xiu victory, following their alliance, against a huge army of
enemies soon after the Spaniards encamped at Tihoo (1:257-64).
29. Merida was the cycle seat when the Spaniards came (Chumayel, 115). The Maya
were instructed to welcome "our older brothers" from Spain (74).
30. A description of Maya people living in Spanish style cities was part of a lament about
a Maya tribute to pay for the cycle seat expenses: It implied dual taxation by both
Spanish and Maya lords (Ibid., 78). The cycle seat in the latter quote was not
defined; another sixteenth-century passage stated that it was Chichen Itza (Ibid., 117).
31. Ibid., 110.
32. The Spaniards "brought together the towns" (Ibid., 128).
33. The Spaniards began erecting a "house of God" with great amounts of work in the
center of town (Ibid., 128-9). The "fathers of the God house" in the center of Merida
will arrive (Ibid., 136).
34. Ibid., 194.
35. Ibid., 195.
36. Ibid., 114.
37. Matthew Restall found documentary evidence in surviving archives after 1713 that
traditional Maya neighborhoods, called "cahob" ("cah", singular), existed probably at
the time of the European settlement. Restall argued that they constituted in fact the
Spanish suburbs documented by Cogolludo and studied in this paper (108-121). Hunt
describes an oral tradition in Merida that Santiago was inhabited when the Spaniards
38. Las Casas landed at Campeche in 1545, was received with gifts by Montejo the son,
and was invited to Merida, which invitation Las Casas declined (Cogolludo, 1:308-9).
Las Casas' reforms were examined by Lorenzo Galm6s in the work Bartolomd de las
Casas. Defensor de los derechos humans (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos,
1982). Las Casas had demonstrated the non-coercive evangelization of Tezulutlin
and been rewarded with being named Bishop of Chiapas in 1539. His reform
movement criticized Spanish cruelty toward feudal Indian serf workers by the
"encomendero" class of feudal landlords. The movement was rewarded by enactment
of the "New Laws" in 1540-43 (121-141).
Remesal documented implementation of"congregaci6n" as a method of compliance
with the teachings of Las Casas (I:220). Secular Spanish antipathy to Las Casas at
one point focused on his leaving the cathedral staffed with only one priest, resulting in
difficulties among Spaniards in receiving religious services (II: 144-5).
39. Remesal, 11:243.
41. Bartolome Martinez Espinal, "Report on the city of Valladolid," RY. 13:12-14.
42. Juan de Urrutia, Ibid., RY, 13:68.
43. Palomar, RY, 11:70.
44. Ibid., 11:72.
45. Restall found evidence that Maya resided there prior to the Nahuatl settlers, 116;
Cogolludo described the neighborhoods, 1:375.
46. Restall stated that San Juan and Santa Lucia had no documented semi-autonomous
Maya township governments (115-6). Palomar stated that the chapels of San Juan
and Santa Lucia were "outside of the city" (RY 11:72-3).
47. The principal differences in the settlement of the two cities was in the selection of
sites. Montejo the son followed his fathers instructions, and precedent, to settle the
provincial capital laid over an abandoned Maya capital, as described by Cogolludo
Montejo the nephew settled his city at two consecutive sites, neither of which
resembled the abandoned capitals favored by Montejo the elder. The first site was
across a lagoon from a coastal commercial town of significant size and urbanism. The
town was abandoned forcibly and burned. Disease caused a new site to be selected.
A period of warfare with the Maya city-state of Saci was described by Bartolom6
Martinez Espinal in "Report on the City of Valladolid." He described the result: its
Maya inhabitants were removed and the Spanish settlement was laid over what had
been an occupied Maya city of regional prestige (RY 13:12-14).
48. Cogolludo documented the abandoned monumental Maya buildings at Tihoo/Merida
(I: 257,267,268,283,372). Martinez stated that the Spanish settlement at Chuaca was
an "imitation of that large native township... at the other part of lagoon," and was
therefore not described as being laid over a Maya city center (RY 13:8).
COLONIAL MORPHOLOGY OF MERIDA:
THE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN TWO URBAN CONFIGURATIONS
Two Patterns in the Spanish Grid at Merida
The sixteenth-century city plan for the Spanish core of Merida consisted of two
distinct patterns. The first was the formal Spanish city plan. It consisted of a rectilinear
grid centered on a plaza; a subdivision into one-quarter block urban lots for households;
and a periphery which consisted of common lands and suburbs. The second pattern was
distinguished by a series of anomalies in parts of the regular Spanish grid. The principal
anomalies in the Spanish grid of the sixteenth-century city were actually parts of the Maya
city which Spaniards selectively adapted and reused. The physical plan of early colonial
Merida was therefore the result of a Spanish geometric grid laid over a different Maya
The Sixteenth-Century Spanish City Plan: Characteristics and Sources
The Spanish city plan of 1542 was a drawing on parchment which was presented
by Montejo the son to the new city council, as documented by Cogolludo, described
elsewhere. In the absence of the original drawing, the surviving documentation of the city
plan is present in descriptions by historians in the early colonial period, principally
Cogolludo, Landa and Palomar. Numerous scholars have studied the Spanish plan for
Merida. This chapter has recapitulated some basic data and demonstrates results of
research for this paper.
The description by Cogulludo contains much precise data about the geometry and
configuration; his verbal description equals almost a graphic plan. In particular, it
documents the Maya origins of one major anomaly in the grid; that description was the
motive for the remainder of this paper's investigation of the underlying Maya city.'
Because of the number of designated citizens to be housed, who were all Spaniards, the
original configuration was probably a grid which measured five blocks by five blocks, as
will be demonstrated and has been suggested in a conversation with Edgardo Bolio, June
1996. Evidence will be demonstrated that it was surveyed in two phases for unknown
reasons; the first phase consisted of a core of three blocks by three blocks, with probable
There is significant evidence from the locations of sixteenth-century buildings
whose footprints have been documented by others that the sixteenth-century grid for the
Spanish core and for the original suburbs was basically consistent with the Topographic
Map of 1864-5, stated by Antichiw to be the oldest surviving graphic plan of the grid.
Two eighteenth-century drawings survived for the San Benito complex of Maya pyramid,
monastery, churches and citadel.2 Figure 3.1 illustrates major surviving colonial buildings,
whose footprints were documented by others as being continuous through time and which
provide evidence for the continuity of the sixteenth-century Spanish grid, except for some
minor revisions, including street widening and the addition of some cross-streets such as
that between the cathedral and the former bishop's residence. Figure 3.2 is a
reconstruction of the city center in approximately 1610.
Existing buildings with documented or probable colonial dates of
construction (central Merida). Those which defined the edges of colonial
.streets are evidence that the 1542 city plan continued through time.
* Buildings constructed in sixteenth or seventeenth centuries
C] Buildings constructed in eighteenth century
2. House of the Bishop
3. House of the Moatejos
4. House of the Bracamontes
5. Nuns' Convent
6. "Leaping Dog" building
7. Jesuit Church of the Third Order
8. Juirez House
9. Chapel, Hospital of San Juan de Dios
10. City Hall
11. House of"Alfonso L6pez"
12. Cano House
14. Present Hotel St villa
15. "House of the C3untess"
16. Present "Albertc's Restaurant"
17. Quintana Roo House
18. Former Grain Market
19. Former Fish Ma:ket
construction of the Spanish core of Merida, circa 1610, -. ..
showing vestiges of Tihoo. .. .. ,
The Existing Maya City at the Time of the European Encounter
The Maya city center, over which was laid the sixteenth-century Spanish city,
consisted of numerous stone buildings, some of great monumentality. The center was
abandoned and covered with brush and trees, as described previously. That Maya city
center, including the design and construction of several buildings, was described by early
colonial Spanish chroniclers. One monumental building was drawn in plan by Landa; a
copy of his drawing is shown in Figure 3.10. All of the major Maya buildings of the center
were demolished by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A probably
speculative reconstruction was drawn by Tomassi in the mid-twentieth century; a model
based on Tomassi's work exists in the city historical museum, the former chapel of San
Juan de Dios Hospital.3 Its major characteristic is the hypothesis that the present Calle 60
was also a major Maya sacbe, or raised, paved avenue or roadway. This study found
evidence for Maya sacbes at Merida, as is shown in another chapter, but there was no
evidence found which supported Tomassi's theory regarding Calle 60.
It is possible to adduce parts of the Maya city using historical descriptions,
especially from Cogolludo, Landa, and the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, described
previously. Descriptions in the latter were poetical in nature, but contained significant data
relative to the city center. A second source of data was from studies of Maya urban
centers in Yucatan by scholars in the discipline of archaeoastronomy. Data from studies
of other sites were compared with grid anomalies in Merida and with historical data in
order to support other hypothesized elements of the Maya city.
The study of the encounter between two urban configurations results in an
emerging picture of historical continuity of a type with relatively limited examples in Latin
America. Better known examples of the type are the dual cities of Cuzco and
Tenochtitlin/Mexico City, in which architectonic vestiges of both urban layers are still
visible. Research for Merida has demonstrated that the phenomenon of layering cities
from two cultures left a record in the built environment, even though Maya buildings no
longer exist in Merida. An example is the Spanish buildings and grid laid over the Maya
city at San Benito, illustrated in Figures 6.7.
Part One: The Original Spanish Plan of Merida
This section has examined the configuration of the Spanish city which was
surveyed in 1542. To repeat, Cogolludo stated that the plan was ". .. ordered,... [with]
streets adequate, equal and straight,... [with] blocks of four lots." The urban fabric was
divided "in blocks by equal [dimensions] (divididas en cuadraspor igual)." Both the
east-west and north-south dimensions of the main plaza were equal. It was oriented to the
The only reasonable meaning of the statements is that a rectilinear, repeating grid
existed whose blocks were nominally square. That meaning is supported further by the
description of preparation to "measure the city and lay it out with a compass (medir la
ciudady compasarla)." The presence of a mechanical device of an unspecific shape is
consistent with the definition of compass ("compass") in Diccionario of the Real Academia.
It was referenced also in Oviedo's History of the Indies, publ. 1535.5 That grid
configuration complies with the instructions by King Fernando to Pedrarias Divila in 1513
for the planning of Santo Domingo, as demonstrated below:
The King's Instructions to Divila in 1513: Implication of a Grid for Santo Domingo
Fernando's instructions to Pedrarias Divila for the founding of Santo Domingo in
1513 were examined by the scholar Dan Stanislawski. Pedrarias Divila was instructed to
choose a site which was "healthy ..., close to arable land." It was to be planned with a
"definite arrangement... started with form." He stated that "... the manner of setting up
the urban lots (solares) will determine the pattern of the town."6 The description implied
a rectilinear, repeating grid. Stanislawski stated that a similar text was contained in royal
instructions for new settlements by Jeronymites in 1518 and "for the province of Amichel"
in 1521. He implied that those texts were factors in the configurations of rectilinear,
repeating grids in 1528 at Villa Real, Chiapas and in 1531 at Puebla.7 The investigation by
Stanislawski is evidence of a precedence for repeating, rectilinear grids in the New World,
even though other characteristics varied. Sixteenth-century grids published in Pianos
Existentes includes examples whose blocks were rectangular like Puebla's, square like
Merida's, irregular and a mix of shapes.'
Symbolic Significance of the Rectilinear Grid Among Spaniards in the Early
There is evidence in the early colonial chronicles that Spaniards perceived regular,
rectilinear grid plans as indications of idealized civic virtue. The absence of such plans
indicates the lack of such civic virtue, whereas the presence of a rectilinear grid was,
therefore, a symbol of a Spanish city. An example was the following quote from Remesal:
"The Indians, prior to their religious conversion, lived in different
towns,... [with] different lords, different government, different idols, ...
and because the towns were not ordered by streets and neighborhoods as in
Europe, houses were here, there, and beyond, without any correspondence
among one another... the priests under Gonzilo Hidalgo de Montemayor
began to try to enjoin the towns ... in the form of'sociable' republics,...
for this they first made a grid plantt] in order that all [lots?] be uniform
for building. The first was given as a place for the church ... All the rest
of the town was divided with a [measuring] cord, the streets straight and
wide, north to south, east, west, in the form of blocks.9
The narrative is a description of the process of congregaci6n, or the relocation,
forcibly or voluntarily, of native peoples from existing townships into gridded towns of a
European type, centered on squares with churches described previously. It describes
clearly also the symbolic link between grid town plans and "republics," or idealized
Evidence that the Grid of Merida was Symmetrical Around the Plaza
As stated, the size and shape of Merida's Spanish grid has been studied by
numerous scholars. The following section includes a passage from Cogolludo and an
examination of the actual geometry of the plan. Sources for the latter were the 1864-5
Topographic Plan of Merida and the city street map by INEGI; (Instituto Nacional de
Estadistica Geogrifica Informitica) dated 1995.10 Cogolludo stated that the principal
plaza was surrounded by the city blocks "... la plaza mayor hoy, y sus cuadras en
contorno.. ."." The only reasonable inferrance for the statement is a central plaza,
surrounded by a layer of blocks, probably arranged symmetrically around the plaza.
Numerous descriptions by Cogolludo are characterized by geometric precision. An
example was his citation of dimensions of the cathedral (231 by 110 "geometric feet").12
Because of his precision, it is reasonable to infer that his description of the grid was also
There was additional evidence from a study of the geometry of the grid prepared
for this paper. The blocks of the center were skewed slightly off of true 90 covers. The
variation from that angle and from an average block size were approximately consistent in
a central core of nine blocks which was centered on the plaza. Blocks surrounding that
hypothetical core were characterized by an increasing variation from probably standard
dimensions. See Figure 3.3. The evidence was based on the following assumption: The
city grid in 1865 was approximately identical to that of 1542.
Adducing the Size and Shape of the Spanish City Plan
Cogolludo did not state the number of blocks surveyed in 1542 nor the location of
the city's perimeter. He did state that the grid was surveyed to provide house lots of one-
quarter block size for seventy settlers.1 It is possible to calculate the minimum number of
blocks required to house the settlers and the other urban functions described in the
chronicle. See Figure 3.4. The typical lot was one-quarter block in size. Several
complete blocks were granted to single owners; the plaza consisted also of one complete
Documentation for the granting of several complete blocks was present or implied
in the sources. Cogolludo implied that the plaza was one block in size in his detailed
descriptions of the blocks surrounding it, on which were sited the cathedral, the royal
houses, and Montejo's house. Since two of those buildings described by him are still
present, there is no other reasonable conclusion. Palomar's 1579 narrative stated that
each of those three buildings occupied one block, and the remaining block, at the west side
of the plaza, was occupied by the Maya pyramid. There is additional documentation. By
at least the eighteenth century the western portion of the block facing the plaza on the
north side was owned by Jose Cano, the city's "Alguacil Mayor," evidence that the block
by then was owned by more than one owner.
Repeating block skew and probable surveying sequence of Spanish crew in 1542.
A. Corner angle of 88* 20' ( 20' variation)
B. Line of straight street, 3 blocks in length, probably original Spanish alignment
C. Line of straight street, 5 blocks long, prob. orig. Spanish
D. Approximate location, Maya pyramid base
E. Open, level space, existing at the Spanish settlement
.--) Adduced path of Spanish survey crew in 1542, based on existing repeating angles
and their probable continuity since 1542.
F. Corner angle of 90* ( 20' variation)
Corner angle of less than 8;3
Probable plan configuration to accommodate seventy
Spanish households: 5-block by 5-block grid.
Probable 3-block by 3-block central core
Probable colonial grid
Probable one-quarter block subdivision
adduced f'om 1864-5 Map
-Hypotheti-.al one-quarter block subdivision
--- Great Pyr~mid base (hypoth.)
D Royal Ho ses
E Small Plaza
1 Montejo Residence
2 Alfonso Ldpez
3 70 Remain'g 68 settlers (70 total,
There was convincing evidence that the block occupied by the cathedral was
wholly owned by the church during the colonial period. The cathedral and the bishop's
palace were both constructed in the sixteenth century; a seminary was built at the rear of
the bishop's residence during the eighteenth century. Since those buildings occupied
almost all of that block during the colonial period, it is reasonable to infer that the whole
block was granted initially to the church.
The block south of the plaza was described by Palomar as being occupied by the
"houses" (plural) of Montejo the Son; which implied that the block had been subdivided
but had remained in 1579 in single ownership. The block northwest of the plaza was
granted to Alfonso L6pez in exchange for his demolition of the pyramid. The demolition
did not actually occur at that time; L6pez died in 1545-6 and vestiges of the pyramid were
still standing in 1656.'4
The total minimum number of blocks which were granted was as follows:
Principal Plaza One complete block 1
Church One complete block 1
Francisco de Montejo One complete block 1
Royal Governors Approximately one-quarter block 1/4
Alfonso L6pez One complete block 1
Remaining Settlers One-quarter block (68 settlers x .25 17
Total Approximate Blocks 21-1/4
Adducing the Shape of the Original Spanish Grid
Evidence has been cited that the grid surrounded the central plaza. The grid
perimeter can be inferred further from another sixteenth-century description written by
Martin de Palomar who stated that the Franciscan monastery was located "outside the
walls" of the city. The probable meaning of the term at Merida was "suburban," since
Merida was never surrounded by a defensive wall of military type." There is
documentation of a colonial periphery composed of suburbs in which walled orchards and
gardens were present. Both Spanish and Maya residential lots were traditionally walled.
See Chapter 6. The presence of mostly Maya vernacular homesteads in the suburban
periphery was documented into the 1930s.16 Since that typology utilized typically the
unmortared rubble stone walls associated with it, there was a probable visual difference
between the architectonic textures of Spanish walls ('mamposteria' or mortared rubble
stone) in the city core and mostly Maya walls in the suburbs, as described in Chapter 6.
If the grid were adequate to house functions requiring an area of twenty-two
blocks and if it were symmetrical at both axes around a central plaza, then the smallest
square shape capable of housing the functions is one which measured 5-blocks by 5-
blocks. See Figure 3.4. The shape of the grid is summarized as follows: location of the
monastery was outside of and adjacent to the corner of a hypothetical 5-block by 5-block
grid centered on the principal plaza (See Figure 3.1); the configuration of that core was
centered on the plaza, as cited. It was surveyed with nominally square blocks, except at
one documented anomaly; and the blocks had nominally 90 covers. The grid was
aligned nominally to the cardinal directions, as cited. The location of the grid was not
The hypothesis of this chapter is that the original Spanish grid was probably 5-
blocks by 5-blocks in shape. There are two types of evidence which support further
argumentation for that 5-block by 5-block shape. The first is the presence of numerous 5-
block by 5-block grids with square outlines in new Spanish cities in the sixteenth century.
The second is evidence that the square outline had probable theological significance in
sixteenth-century New Spain.
Incidence of 5-Block by 5-Block Spanish Grids with Square Perimeters in the
A search was made in published sixteenth-century city plans in the work Pianos
Existentes for examples similar to the hypothetical shape of Merida's grid. The work
contains plans with sixteenth-century dates for twenty new cities founded by Spaniards."
Among those city plans there is a series whose perimeter was square and whose pattern
was symmetrical around one or two axes and surrounding a central plaza. That series
consists of twelve examples, out of the total of twenty sixteenth-century city plans. The
proportion of symmetrical plans with square or rectangular outlines is, therefore,
significant and it implies a frequently repeating characteristics
Three of the sixteenth-century plans show characteristics which matched those
hypothesized for Merida. The plans for Mendoza, San Juan de la Frontera and La Palma
each consist of five-block grids with a central plaza and one-quarter block homestead lots.
A probably agricultural periphery was shown surrounding the city in the 1561 plan for
Mendoza.20 It corresponds to the probably suburban and common land periphery around
Merida, documented in another chapter. There is geometric evidence, similar to that of
Merida, that the city plan of Santiago de los Caballeros, Guatemala, resurveyed in 1543,
possessed probably a 5-block by 5-block core of square blocks. That plan was significant
also for the presence of dimensions, not available in modern units of measure on the other
sixteenth-century plans described above. Blocks at Santiago's center scale 72 meters on
a side, compared to Merida's standard blocks which scaled approximately 119 meters.2
The variance in sizes is evidence that, even though grid patterns had similar patterns, block
sizes were not standard. Additional research is needed to compare block sizes for a range
of similar Spanish colonial cities. See Figure 3.5.
Evidence of a Theological Reason for a Square Perimeter
There is documentation of a probable theological factor related to the phenomenon
of square outlines for numerous sixteenth-century Spanish city plans in Central Mexico.
Since Montejo had political and financial links with central Mexico, including his service
under Cortez, it is reasonable to hypothesize a theological factor for the Spanish plan of
Merida, similar to that which was documented by other scholars in central Mexico, as
demonstrated below. Note: This investigation is not complete. Sufficient data exist to
justify the following description.
There was evidence of several early colonial Mexican examples in which study of
and application of sixteenth-century ideal city theory influenced actual colonial policies
and urban design. In the first example, a series of scholars, including Mexican researchers
Tovar and others and the North American Kubler had examined a copy of the work
Utopia by the English philosopher Sir Thomas More, which was printed as part of an
edition of Erasmus' writings, published in 1518. The volume was part of the library of
Juan de Zumrrraga, appointed first bishop of Mexico by Charles V in 1527.2 Ideas from
More were demonstrated as probable factors, in church-sponsored congregaci6n policies
in central Mexico.
In another example, the bishop's friend, Vasco de Quiroga, developed later two
idealized rural communities based on social ideals described by More.2 Because of the
central Mexican data, it is reasonable to quote More and then the probable Biblical origin:
Plan of probable 5-block by 5-block core of Merida in 1542.
I II I1 II I[ I
I EI I II I I
Plan of probable 5-block by 5-block core of Santiago de los Caballeros,
Comparison between the plans of Merida and Santiago de los Caballeros, Guatemala.
More described Amaurot, the principal city of Utopia: ". .. its figure is almost a square ..
. The town is compassed by a high and thick wall... The streets ... are well sheltered
from the winds.. ."24
Two sources are implied as origins for the description. First the square shape of
the city probably originated in a New Testament Biblical description of an idealized city
with Judaic origins. In the book "The Revelation of John" 21:2-27 was stated, "I saw the
holy city, new Jerusalem... It had a great high wall,... The city was built as a square..
. Nothing unclean shall enter, nor anyone whose ways are false or foul,. ..",2 The
passage documented not only the geometry but also its ideal social nature. The second
source implied in More was the reference to designing the city in order to shelter it from
winds. That theme was identical to a major theme in The Ten Books of Architecture by
Vitruvius, republished in the sixteenth century in Spanish.2
Evidence for a 3-Block by 3-Block Central Core at Merida
The chronicles and the 1864-5 Topographic Map provide data for another
hypothesis: The original core was probably surveyed in two stages. The first was a
pattern of three blocks by three blocks, with the center block being the plaza. That pattern
of surveying is supported by an analysis of variations of the nominally 90" corer angles of
the blocks. The 1864-5 Map contains repeating irregularities in the block shapes and
covers, which were nominally square and right angled. Instead of being actually right
angled, they are each slightly skewed, as described previously. That skew is present also
in the 1995 INEGI Map, demonstrating that it was not a drawing error on the 1865
Cogolludo described the use of a compass or a similar device to survey the city, as
documented elsewhere. Whatever device or method was used was subject to frequent
readings of 88*20', probably unintentionally, as shown on Figure 3.3. The evidence of
skewed angles is useful to this study as data to adduce two probable phases in the survey.
There is evidence of increasing variation in the sizes of the angles as distance increased
from the plaza. The most reasonable explanation for the phenomenon is the following:
Block skews were roughly uniform for a group of blocks forming a square of 3 blocks by
3 blocks in area. Outside of that square, the block skews increased. The data imply two
phases in the survey. The first phase consisted of a 3-block grid centered on the plaza.
Another surrounding layer was then added, resulting in a 5-block by 5-block grid.
The evidence was based on the following assumption: The city grid in 1865 was
approximately identical to that of 1542, as argued previously, based on the continuity of
colonial buildings at street corners in the historical core. Another analysis has been made
of the geometry of the Spanish city center, which supported evidence of a surveying
sequence limited to a 3-block by 3-block area initially. The actual sequence of surveyors
in the field in 1542 has been adduced utilizing geometric data familiar to practicing design
professionals. It is presented as a hypothesis regarding sixteenth-century surveying
methodology, summarized as follows:
Adducing the Surveying Sequence
Cogolludo stated that the Spanish plaza was located in front of the principal
pyramid and that the grid was centered on the plaza, as cited previously. That data imply
that the survey utilized the pyramid as its starting point, or "bench mark." The geometry
of the nearby blocks supports that hypothetical starting point as follows: There was a row
of three practically straight, aligned blocks east of the southwest corer of the pyramid
(See Figure 3.3). The only other row of straight, aligned blocks is one five blocks long,
located two blocks northward. In between was the row of blocks documented by
Cogolludo as blocked by the pyramid. The most reasonable assumption is the following:
The surveyors began at the southwest corer of the great pyramid; proceeded in a
straight line for a total of three blocks. They relocated two blocks northward, surveying
westward, and thus established another line, almost parallel to the first, back to the
pyramid. Later, the line was extended one block at each end, for a total of five straight
blocks. Evidence of a three-block interval associated with the hypothesized surveying
sequence further supports the probability of a 3-block by 3-block central core of blocks.
The pattern has a parallel in plans for new Spanish cities in central Mexico and Guatemala.
3-Block by 3-Block Grid as Symbol: Buitr6n and Istapa
There is significant evidence, although still inconclusive at the time of writing, that
a pattern present in the sixteenth century in New Spain was associated with the
Adelantado Francisco de Montejo and was also a symbol. The pattern was first observed
in a series of plans for new Spanish cities in the sixteenth century which possessed square
plans. Drawings for two new cities showed a 3-block by 3-block grid.
The method of depiction with visual graphics accentuated the geometries
significantly more than was needed to simply illustrate a town plan. The drawings were
perceived by the author as possessing symbolic content. The subjects are Buitr6n, a
suburb of Veracruz in the sixteenth century, and Istapa, a Spanish settlement in
Guatemala. Both plans were republished in the work Pianos Existentes; the plan for
Buitr6n was dated 1590, that for Istapa was 1598.2 There was a historical connection
between Veracruz and Montejo the elder: He was a founder and one of the first two
alcaldes or mayors of Veracruz. This link implies a common symbol shared both by
Montejo and the plan for Buitr6n.
The alleged seal of Montejo was discovered in a ruined sixteenth-century house in
1932.28 See Figure 3.6 for its geometry. Even though any commonality among the
hypothesized first phase for the grid of Merida, the plan of Buitr6n, and the seal
ofMontejo has not yet been demonstrated convincingly, each graphic formed a square
perimeter. The presence of a symbolic representation of the Biblical New Jerusalem
and/or More's Utopia is the most reasonable explanation for the similarity in shapes.
The geometry being considered is one with a known history: the 3-block by 3-
block pattern had significance in the architectural planning for early-Christian and
Byzantine churches and Muslim mosques, in addition to Renaissance buildings.2
Research by Helen Rosenau implies that the module was associated in the late antiquity
with a hypothesized plan of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Evidence was medieval
drawings identified as the New Jerusalem which resembled the pattern." The similarity of
the sixteenth-century Spanish colonial drawings to the hypothesized plan of Solomon's
Temple may have been coincidental. Additional research would clarify more the
hypothetical symbolism of the 3-block by 3-block colonial city plan.
Part Two: Anomalies in the Spanish Grid: Evidence of Maya Origins
The colonial grid ofMerida was characterized by three significant geometric
anomalies. They were in addition to minor variations in block sizes and corer angles.
One was documented as being an intentional adjustment of the Spanish grid in order to
accommodate part of the Maya infrastructure of Tihoo. See Figure 3.7.
Istapa, Guatemala, shown in 1598 (no scale).
Buitr6n, Mexico, shown in 1590 (no scale).
Montejo's Seal, recovered in 1931, documented by Rubio Mahie.
as forming the pattern of the Basque stirrup of the Salazars.
Comparison of Geometries, Buitr6n, Istapa, Montejo's Seal.
- 12 East of North: Anomaly Two
Anomalies of the regular, repeating Spanish grid of Merida
There is evidence that the other anomalies in the grid had also Maya origins.
Because of those probable origins, Merida's urban grid was another example of a special
type of sixteenth-century Spanish city: It was one of that type which was laid over and
which incorporated parts of existing native-American cities. Other examples
includeMexico City/Tenochtitlin, and Cuzco, as cited previously. A study of those cities
as a group was outside of the scope of this paper.
There is evidence in the chronicles that the grid was a symbol of "republic," as was
shown in a quote from Remesal in this chapter, implying that the intention of Spaniards
was to plan gridded cities without such anomalies. As a result, the presence of anomalies
in the grid of Merida is perceived in this study as an act of special significance, requiring
The first anomaly was a row of blocks adjacent to the plaza which were
significantly wider (c. 32%) than the rest of the blocks in the original layout around the
plaza. The anomaly was the first grid characteristic noted and investigated by the author
because of its marked prominence as an anomaly in the Spanish grid. Research has
showed that it was explained in an initially-incomprehensible paragraph by Cogolludo.
Once the passage was understood, it clearly described a sixteenth-century adjustment to
the formally designated Spanish grid. That adjustment was the subject of a lengthy
process: Presentation and approval by the city council and a formal resurvey by officially
designated surveyors. That process supports the hypothesis that the grid possessed
special significance as a symbol of the Spanish municipality.
The anomaly was associated with two separate issues relating to the sixteenth-
century grid. Both were issues because of the presence of the great pyramid in front of
which was laid the Spanish central plaza. Cogolludo stated that:
"Next to where the plaza is now, among other cerros, one was
called 'the largest' ... and because Alonso L6pez was to tear it down ...
at his own cost,... they gave him the whole block of four lots, in order
that the streets be straight .. ."3
The statement documents that the pyramid blocked at least two streets. The
narrative then states:
"One street continued over the great cerro, which was next to the
houses of the lieutenant governor. [It] was a reason for losing lots and
closing streets, without there being continuity from beginning to end, as
had been proposed. In order to avoid that,... Juan de Sosa, who was
committed to measuring the city, was petitioned to adjust it."32
The narrative requested an official resurvey to avoid discontinuity in the grid. The
civic significance of a regular and repeating grid was clearly implied. The best explanation
for the statement is that the present Calle 61, which defines the north edge of the plaza,
could not be extended in a straight manner without demolishing a portion of the great
pyramid (See Figure 3.2). The narrative states then:
"On February 23 it was resolved that the street would be below the
cerro, although the lots of the blocks would become larger, because the
street would continue where it had been surveyed, and straight."33
The best explanation is that the modem city center contains a row of blocks which
are wider (c. 156 meters) than the normal width (c. 120 meters), resulting in rectangular
shapes in lieu of the normal square block shapes. That row conformed to the location of
the blocks described by Cogolludo. The width of the base of the great pyramid can be
inferred: It was probably identical to the revised block width.
The descriptions of streets passing "over," then "under," the great pyramid were
not comprehensible until the probable intention of Cogolludo's description is understood:
The street passed "over" and "under" the pyramid in a figurative, not a literal, sense.
Another interpretation was proposed by Murdo MacLeod in a conversation with the
author, April 1998; he suggested that the term was figurative in the sense of"adjacent to."
When Lopez demolished the pyramid sufficiently to allow the street to pass, the result was
its passing "below" the side of the former pyramid.
The second anomaly was a variation of geographic alignment of the grid from true
cardinal coordinates. Cogolludo described the grid as aligning with those cardinal
coordinates. The actual north-south orientation of the grid is c. 12* east of true north, as
shown on the official city map published by INEGI.34 There is evidence, cited below, that
the alignment was Maya in origin. Cogolludo described the location of the Spanish plaza
in front of the principal Maya pyramid.35 The most logical implication from that statement
was that the plaza was aligned with the front of that large building (See Figure 3.3.) The
hypothesis was supported further by studies in the discipline of archaeastronomy:
The archaeastronomer Richard Aveni prepared a study of alignments of major
Maya buildings. Aveni demonstrated that most buildings in the Puuc region during the
late Post-Classical period were skewed in orientation 14" east of north.3 This region was
adjacent to the region of Merida; data from all Maya regions demonstrated that the skew
varied and was dependent on specific locations. Regardless of the location in Yucatan, a
pronounced skew similar to that of Merida was evident. Alignments of several towns in
the Merida region were measured from INEGI regional maps.37 Several towns with
documented or probable late Post-Classical Maya origins were skewed in orientation,
similar to the Puuc skew. See Map in Figure 2.1. Preliminary results were as follows:
Town or City Orientation East of North
Chapab (Prob. Maya) 14
Otzkutzcab 170 (varies)
Tahmek (Prob. Maya) 50
The survey was preliminary; evidence of Maya origins was from one governmental
survey of municipalities in Yucatan (Municipios de Yucatan). Results supported a
preliminary correlation between Aveni's hypothesis and the orientations of a significant
number of towns and cities in the Merida region as the justification for additional study.
There were two possible reasons for the anomalies at Merida and numerous other cities
with Pre-Columbian origins. Either the Spaniards were not capable of accurate alignments
or Spaniards aligned regular European grids on existing Maya buildings or other
Cogolludo documented the presence of a compass at the surveying of Merida. A
compass was documented also at the surveying of Santo Domingo. Evidence for that
technology was examined previously. The data implied that Spanish orientation skills
were capable of significant accuracy. The best explanation for the data is the following:
Based on documented Spanish surveying skills, it is probable that Merida's orientation
was not a Spanish error but was the result of aligning the Spanish grid with the principal
Anomaly Three: The Southern Edge of the Spanish Core
The third anomaly associated with the sixteenth-century Spanish core was the
southern edge of the core, whose southern edge was bounded in the early colonial period
by the original Spanish road to Izamal, now Calle 65.38 See Figure 3.7. At the southeast
edge of the Spanish core, that road was the edge also of the district later called the Citadel
of San Benito. San Benito contained a sixteenth-century Franciscan monastery, several
churches and a fort built over a large Maya pyramid base. The complex was surrounded
by a seventeenth-century wall with projecting bastions for cannon. The entire complex
was demolished in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.39 See Figure 6.6 for a
reconstruction of its appearance in the colonial period.
The former Izamal road, present Calle 65, extended west of San Benito, and was
the northern boundary of the San Juan neighborhood. The next street southward is the
present Calle 67, which runs also roughly east-west. An examination of the city map will
demonstrate a significant geometric anomaly. The two streets, 65 and 67, are neither
parallel to the east-west streets in the Spanish core nor are they parallel to each other.
They actually appear to radiate from a pair of axes near the former Franciscan monastery.
This study has found significant evidence that the non-parallel, changing geometry
of those two streets, together with the San Benito complex itself, constituted probably a
significant part of the Maya city. The hypothesis of this section is as follows: Calles 65
and 67 had origins as Maya sacbeob, or paved ceremonial avenues, which radiated from
the Maya pyramid. See Figure 3.8.
The pyramid itself is well documented in early colonial Spanish chronicles, as cited
below. A curious statement by Landa was the probable documentation of at least one of
the pairs of hypothesized sacbeob. Finally, the Maya Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel
possesses a description of a building complex which showed preliminary evidence of
corresponding to San Benito.
Historical Descriptions of San Benito
Cogolludo described the Franciscan monastery: "... and at the eastern part, our
monastery was built, in order to be close [to the Spanish city]."
"The principle monastery... is commonly called S. Francisco de
Merida although its title is Ressurrection of Our Lady [was founded in]
1547 ... It is situated on a small pyramid (cerro) of the many which had
been made by hand in this land, ... where there had been some ancient
buildings, whose vestiges today are present below the main dormitory.. .
"The second group of buildings which are the largest and most
ancient are those ofTiho ... it is a rectangular seat of much grandeur
because it has more than two horse tracks from the eastern part ... [in the]
flat part above, begin the buildings in this manner: [There are] three well-
built masonry pyramids. .4
Landa's reference to "more than two horse tracks" (carreras de caballo) implies a
pair or more of special or unique streets. The description can reasonably be understood as
a description of two or more formerly Maya paved roads. It is not his only reference to a
Maya roadway at Merida, ". .there are signs today of a beautiful paved highway
[calzada] between [Tiho and Izamal].4
In order to support the hypothesis that Calles 65 and 67 had origins as Maya
sacbeob, their alignments were measured.43 The geometric orientation of the two streets
showed evidence of a pattern: They appear in actuality to radiate outward from points
within the former San Benito/Franciscan complex and the public square surrounding it.
They are shown in Figure 3.8. The alignments of those streets was then compared with
A Principal pyramid (demolished)
B Present principal plaza
C Present Calle 65, west of San Benito
D Present Calle 67, west of San Benito
E Present Calle 67, east of San Benito
F Present Calle 65, east of San Benito
G Forner pyramid, present in 1864-5 (demolished)
H Center of pyramid at San Benito (demolished)
I Intersection, center line of pyramids A and G, as shown
J Intersection, center line of Calles 65 east and west
K Intersection, center line of Calles 67 east and west
L Former open space
Comparison of existing streets with Maya urbaa infrastructure
II f~z B
published tables of alignments of Maya buildings and spaces prepared by the scholars
Aveni and Hartung in the work Maya City Planning and the Calendar, cited previously.
The alignment of Calle 65 west of San Benito complies closely with the published "solar
zenith passage" angle on August 17. Alignment of Calle 67 west of San Benito complied
closely with solar zenith passage angle for September 10.4 Alignment of Calle 65 east of
San Benito complies closely with published solar zenith alignment of August 8. That part
of Calle 65 east of San Benito does not comply with any published solar zenith angles but
matches the alignment of another existing Maya building a surveyed building at
The evidence described above is significant enough to indicate probability that
archaeological excavation would encounter evidence of paved Maya sacbeob below the
present Calles 65 and 67. Further, the intersection points of the street center lines may be
evidence of minor Maya structures marking the points and used for astronomically-related
ritual. A reconstruction of the location of the pyramid has then been made. The only
surviving drawing of the pyramid was prepared by Landa in the sixteenth century. It is not
indicated on the 1865 map, although a nearby Maya pyramid was shown. (See Figure3.9.)
It is also not shown on the 1751 architectural drawing of the castle/monastery/parish
There is evidence that Landa's drawing could be utilized as a scaled drawing: It
contains a notation that a terrace was "more than thirty feet" which was used as an
indication of actual graphic scale. Based on that data, Landa's sketch was recopied and its
scale was adjusted slightly to allow it to conform to photographic documentation of the
pyramid's shape in the late nineteenth century. The photographs were republished in the
study of San Benito by Merida architect Raul Alcali, published in 1998. The pyramid, as
drawn originally by Landa and as adjusted for scale, described above, is shown in Figure
3.9. A reconstruction of the San Benito neighborhood in the eighteenth century is shown
in Figure 6.6.
The reconstruction of the pyramid provides significant support for this paper's
hypothesis that Calles 55 and 57 had Maya origins. It is recognized that the hypothesis
can be supported definitively only with archaeology. In its absence, the followingevidence
is as close to definitive, in this author's opinion, as is possible with historical sources.
Landa's drawing, adjusted to comply with other documentation, showed architectural
evidence for Maya origins for the two parts of Calle 67. At the starting point of the two
diverging center lines of present Calle 67 were two distinctive Maya buildings illustrated
by Landa. Their exact correlation can only be reasonably understood as architectural
elements marking those street alignments. The research was the first utilization known to
this author of Landa's famous drawing as an actual scale drawing. The results were
unexpected support for the hypothesis.
The assumed center of the principal pyramid documented as facing the main
Spanish plaza was at a 45 angle from the reconstructed San Benito pyramid. There is, to
date, no evidence that such an angle had significance among Maya; the relationship is
assumed to be coincidental and of interest only to modern architects. Further support
came from the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumavel, which documented a "mat," defined
as a throne. It implies a major building associated with a religious prophet. The building
group on the pyramid base of San Benito was, based on Landa the largest at Tihoo.s4 It
is reasonable to infer that the "mat" complex occupied a site similar to that of San Benito.
Landa's Drawing of the San Benito Pyramid utilized as a
Scaled Drawing and Laid Over the Former San Benito
Note: Drawing was a hand copy by MCL of Landa's
original hand drawing. Size of the pyramid was adduced in
order to approximate Landa's note of "more than thirty
feet." Size and location were adduced further to conform to
documentation by others of the pyramid's location
A. "Chapel," noted by Landa, drawn as oval in shape,
with front stair.
B. "Stair," noted by Landa
C. "Landing," noted by Landa
D. "Very beautiful patio," noted by Landa
E. "Cells," noted by Landa
F. Apparent sloped wall, probably textured
G. Non-noted special structure which aligned
approximately with the center line of Calle 67 west
of the pyramid
H. Non-noted special structure which aligned
approximately with the center line of Calle 67 east of
I. Outline of Citadel walls, from 1864-5 Map
J. Center line, Calle 67 west of San Benito
K. Center line, Calle 67 east of San Benito
0 50 M
The Maya text stated also ".. the coming of the face of the deity... in the four changes
of the road."" The principal characteristic of the San Benito pyramid was precisely four
changes in road directions. The text probably referred to a building complex such as that
at San Benito.
The final piece of data which supported the hypothesis is connected to a
conversation with a Maya man named Rivero in June, 1997 in the historical town of Euan.
He stated that the name "Ich caan si ho" meant "Merida, Eye of Heaven," and not
"Heaven Born Merida," as stated by Edmonson. The description was examined in another
chapter. Rivero's statement can be compared to orientations of probable sacbeob
radiating outward from San Benito. Based on their existence, a function for the site may
be adduced: it was logically an observatory, with lines of sight oriented to four separate
Summary of this Section
Architectonic and historiographic data, supported by data from other disciplines,
are evidence of Maya origins for an anomaly in the regular grid of the Spanish core,
centered on the formal citadel of San Benito.
1. Cogolludo, 1:283.
2. The1864-5 Map was stated to be the oldest surviving depiction of Merida in separate
conversations with Edgardo Bolio, June 1996, and with author Michel Antichiw, July,
Two eighteenth-century drawings of San Benito complex in Merida exist. The first,
"Plan of the Citadel of Merida, Yucatan," dated 1751, was republished in the work
Pianos de ciudades Iberoamericanas y Filipinas existentes en el Archivo de Indias,
collected and with introduction by Fernando Chueca Goitia and Leopoldo Torres
Balbis (Madrid: Insituto de Estudios de Administraci6n Local, Seminario de
urbanismo, 1951), Plate 239. The second was "Plan of the City (sp.) Of San Benito
in Merida, Yucatan," by Rafael Llobet, 1788, repub. In Antochiw, Historia
Cartografica de la Peninsula de Yucatan (Campeche: Centro de Investigaci6n y de
Estudios Avanzados del I.P.N., Grupo Tribasa, 1994), 263.
3. Leopoldo Tommasi L6pez, La ciudad de aver. de hoy v de manafia (M6xico: Editorial
4. Cogolludo described straight streets and one-quarter block lots (1:283). He described
the square shape and orientation (1:365).
5. Cogolludo described the method for measuring the city (1:283). One meaning of the
term "compasar" was defined in Diccionario de la Lengua Espafiola (Madrid: Real
Academia Espafiola, 1992), s.v. compasar, as the act of measuring with a compass.
Fernmndez de Oviedo described the laying out of streets in Santo Domingo in the
early sixteenth century with a rule and compass in tape, in Natural History of the
West Indies, transl. and edited by Sterling A. Stoudemire (Orig. pub. Toledo, 1526.
Repub. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 11.
6. Dan Stanislawski, "Early Spanish Town Planning in the New World" Geographical
Review (NY: National Geographical Society, Vol 37, 1947), 37:96.
7. There were royal instructions (Ibid., 97). Those texts probably influenced grids at
Villa Real and Puebla (Ibid., 100). The official process of implementing straight
streets and rectilinear grids in sixteenth-century Spanish Peru was documented by
Valerie Fraser in The Architecture of Conquest (NY: Cambridge University Press,
8. An example of a grid of rectangular blocks similar to those of Puebla was the plan of
Campeche (1658), repub. in Pianos existentes (Plate 024). An example of square
blocks was Lima in 1626 (Ibid., Plate 305). Irregular grids with a mix of shapes
included Santo Domingo in 1608 (Ibid., Plate 310).
9. Remesal, II:243.
10. "Plano de la localidad urbana, Mirida, Yucatan (Direcci6n Regional Sureste: Institute
Nacional de Estadistica Geografia e Informatica [INEGI], 1995).
11. Cogolludo, 1:267.
12. Ibid., 1:368-9.
13. Cogolludo stated that lots were one-quarter block in size (1:283). He documented 64
settlers and cited a previous source for most of them (1:299). Palomar described
seventy settlers total (11:40).
14. Documentation for the granting of the blocks and lots was as follows:
A. Plaza: one block. Cogolludo's description of the blocks surrounding it could only
be reasonably explained by a 1-block space (1:365).
B. Cathedral, Royal Houses, and Montejo's House were described by Cogolludo as
facing the plaza on the north, east, and south sides respectively. The text implied
that they each consisted of 1-block sites. Ibid.
Palomar's narrative stated in 1579 that the three blocks on the north, east, and
south sides were occupied by one owner; the block at the west side was occupied
by the Maya pyramid (RY 11:54).
C. Block north of the plaza. There was documentation that by the eighteenth
century at least the western portion of the block facing the plaza on the north side
was owned by Jos6 Cano, the city's "Alguacil Mayor". The construction date for
the arcade in front of the building was October 7, 1783. An examination of the
arcade demonstrated that it was built after the adjoining building, because the roof
construction was tied into an existing projection at the west end.
Michel Antochiw stated in a personal conversation in July, 1998 that later in the
colonial period most of the northern half of the block was owned probably by
other owners, except for an extension from the Royal Houses parcel. The
documentation of the probable sale of those portions by the municipality has not
D. Block east of the plaza. There was convincing evidence that the block occupied
by the cathedral continued to be wholly owned by the church during the colonial
period. The cathedral's construction in the late sixteenth century was
documented by Cogolludo (1:367-71). Garcia Preciat documented the sixteenth-
century origins for the Bishop's Residence "Historia de la arquitectura"
(Enciclopedia Yucatanense, pub. under the direction of Carlos A. Echanove
Trujillo, M6xico: Edici6n Oficial del Gobierno de Yucatan, 1944), IV:432.
Garcia documented also the eighteenth-century construction date for the seminary
at the rear of the Bishop's Residence (IV:429-30). All of that block was therefore
documented as church-owned during the colonial period.
E. Block south of the plaza. The block was described by Palomar as being occupied
by the "houses" (plural) of Montejo the Son Y. 11:54). He implied that the
block had been subdivided but had remained in 1579 in single ownership.
F. Block northwest of the plaza. The block was granted to Alfonso L6pez in
exchange for his demolition of the pyramid. His death in 1545-6 was documented
by Pacheco (94). Cogolludo described vestiges of the pyramid still standing in
1656. The description was present in the 1971 Graz edition but not in the 1954
Campeche edition, for unknown reasons (Graz:I:406).
15. Palomar in RY. 11:72. Murdo MacLeod stated that the term signified probably
"suburban", personal conversation, Spring semester, 1998. There was no evidence
that the city was ever walled. Ancona Mena described the city gates as "colonial
adornments..., they signaled the city limits..." (1:31).
16. Asael T. Hansen, "The Ecology of a Latin American City", in E. B. Reuter, ed., Race
and Culture Contacts (NY:McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1934), 140.
17. Palomar's only statement was that it was "well proportioned with good streets. .."
18. Pianos existentes republished sixteenth-century plans for twenty separate cities which
were contained in the Seville archives. Some cities were represented by multiple
plans. The absence of Merida's sixteenth-century plan was evidence that not all plans
from that century were present in the Seville archives. The plans from that century
contained in that archive were as follows: Buenos Aires, Arg. (1583); Mendoza, Arg.
(1561, 1562); San Juan de la Frontera, Arg., (1562); Cartagena, Col (1571), 1594);
La Palma, Col (1581); Havana, Cuba (sixteenth century); Saint Augustine, USA
(1594); Istapa, Guat. (1598); Buitr6n, Mex. (1590); Coatepec, Mex. (1579);
Chicoaloapa, Mex. (1579); Huaxutla, Mex. (1580); Mexico City (1596, end of
sixteenth century); San Juan de Ulia, Mex. (1590, 2 each); Teutenango, Mex. (1582);
Valladolid, Yuc., Mex. (1579): Zimapan, Mex. (1579); Nombre de Dios, PanamA
(1541); Portobelo, Pan. (1567); Santiago de Le6n, Ven. (sixteenth century) (Index,
19. Of the twenty cities whose sixteenth-century plans were republished in Pianos
Existentes twelve were square in outline and were centered on a plaza. They were:
Mendoza (Plate 17); San Juan de la Frontera (P1. 24); La Palma (Pl. 52); Istapa (P1.
174); Buitr6n (Pl. 201); Teutenango (Pl. 259); and Santiago de Le6n (Pl. 349). That
of Chicoaloapa (Pl. 216) and San Juan de Ulia (P1. 251) were symmetrical but not
20. The plan for Mendoza showed a periphery of large lots surrounding an undivided
inner periphery. That inner periphery surrounded the 5-block by 5-block city. The
large lots at the outer periphery were equal to or greater than six city blocks. The
land pattern clearly described a periphery of commons and private farms surrounding
the city (Ibid., P1. 18).
21. There was geometric evidence as follows: The plan of the city in 1541 was shown in a
map by Verle Annis in the work The Architecture of Antigua. Guatemala, 1543-1772
(Guatemala: University of San Carlos, 1968). The colonial core consisted of a central
core 5-blocks by 5-blocks, composed of blocks approximately equal in size and shape.
Surrounding that core was a layer of blocks which were different in size and shape.
The most reasonable explanation for the phenomenon was that the blocks of equal
sizes were surveyed at the same relative time (6). The plan was shown at a graphic
scale (Ibid., xxiv). Merida's blocks were scaled from the INEGI 1995 Map of
22. Tovar el al. described a series of examples in which there was evidence that idealized
civic theories influenced the colony (19-90). George Kubler examined some of those
examples in Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century (Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, Publishers, repub. 1972).
23. Tovar el al., 69-90.
24. Sir Thomas More, "Utopia" (written 1515-6, repub. in Ideal Commonwealths:
Plutarch's Lycurgus. More's U. Bacon's New Atlantis. Campanella's City of the Sun
and a Fragment of Hall's Mundus (NY: George Routledge and Sons, Limited, 1890,
repr., Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, Inc., 1966) 92-3.
25. Samuel Sandmel, General Editor, The New English Bible. Oxford Study Edition (NY:
Oxford University Press, Corrected Impr., 1972), 331-2.
26. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, The Ten Books of Architecture transl. Morris Hicky
Morgan, orig. written probably first century B. C. (Orig. pub. 1914; repub. NY:
Dover, 1960). He proposed that urban plans be oriented based on directions of
winds. The purpose was to protect public health (25).
27. The plan for Buitr6n (1590) was republished in Planos Existentes. Plate 20. That for
Istapa, Guat. (1598) was republished, Ibid., Plate 174.
28. The alleged seal of Montejo was described by Luis Ramirez Aznar in De Col6n a los
Montejo (Merida: Ediciones UADY, 1992), 98-9. He described it as being found in
an excavation in 1932 at a sixteenth-century house in Dzidzantin. It was examined
by Rubio Mafi, who stated that it represented the "Basque stirrup of the Salazars"
and was the coat of arms of the Montejos (98). If Rubio did actually verify the seal,
then its veracity and significance was probably real.
29. An example of a Byzantine church building was Church of the Prophets, Gerasa, 530-
1 AD. It was shown in the work by Cyril Mango, Byzantine Architecture (NY: Harry
N. Abrams, Inc., 1981), 35. A variation of the pattern characterized the principal
form of St. Sophia, Istanbul, completed 537 AD, Ibid., 109-11.
Feris Alfaraidy, while a PH.D student at College of Architecture, University of
Florida, Gainesville (now Ph.D. and practicing architect in Saudi Arabia), stated in a
conversation with MCL in September, 1996 that the 3-square by 3-square module
was the traditional planning module for mosques. That statement was supported
historically by the appearance of the pattern in published floor plans of a series of
mosques, including those of Damascus, c. 1750; Istanbul, Sultan Ahmet, early
seventeenth century; and the Mosque of Toledo, about 1000 AD. They were shown
in the work Architecture of the Islamic World, ed. by George Michell (NY: Thames
and Hudson, 1978), 215-66.
Examples of Renaissance building whose plans show evidence of the 3-bay by 3-bay
pattern were the series of villas by Palladio, which are illustrated schematically by
Rudolf Wittkower in Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (London: alec
tiranti, 1962) 73.
30. Helen Rosenau demonstrated evidence in the work The Ideal City (NY: Methuen &
Co., first pub. 1959, 3" ed. 1983) that medieval Christians believed that the 3-square
by 3-square pattern was that of the ancient Jerusalem. She stated: "...the most
important theme during the Middle Ages seems to have been Jerusalem, and this in its
earthly and celestial aspects..." (26-7). Temple of Solomon. An illumination from the
Beatus of St. Sever resembled that pattern (27).
31. Cogolludo, 1:283.
34. Cogolludo described the orientation as being to the cardinal points (I:365). The
INEGI 1995 Map of Merida, demonstrated its actual orientation.
35. Cogolludo stated that it abutted the square, which implied clearly that their
orientations matched (I:283).
36. Aveni, 18-21.
37. The study utilized hand drafting tools with adjustable angles and three maps published
by INEGI: Izamal F16C53, pub. 1986; Ticul F16C72, pub. 1986? (copy damaged in
field); and Merida F16C52, pub. 1986, reprinted 1995. Maya origins were
documented in the work Los municipios de Yucatan. Roberto Galvin Ramirez,
coord. (Mexico, D.F.: Talleres Grificos de la Naci6n, 1988). Abali: Maya origin was
implied (17); Acanceh: Maya origin documented (21); Chapab: documented history
begins at 1700 as encomienda, its name is Maya (98); Dzan: Pre-Encounter settlement
(130); Mama: Pre-Encounter settlement (233); Mani: Pre-Encounter capital (238);
Otzkutzcab: Pre-Encounter settlement (290); Tahmek: Pre-Encounter settlement are
(376). The Maya origins of Euan were described in a conversation with a Maya
speaker in June, 1997.
38. Calle 65 was the roadway to Izamal in 1864-5, according to an analysis of the 1864-5
Map by Aercel Espadas Medina in "La Nomenclatura de Merida", in Cuademos de
Arquitectura vol. 4 (Autumn, 1991) 4:8.
39. Rail Alcali Erosa, Historia y vestigios de la Ciudadela de San Benito (M6rida:
INAH, 1998), 47-52.
40. CogoUudo, 1:371-2.
41. Landa described two "horse tracks", etc. (RY 13:361-2).
42. Landa described a Maya highway to Izamal. (Ibid., 13:358).
43. Anthony Aveni and Horst Hartung described "hypothetical solar zenith passage"
dates for five regions continuing Maya buildings in Maya City Planning and the
Calendar (Philadelphia: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 76,
Part 7, 1986). The Puuc and Rio Bec regions corresponded most closely with the
latitude of Merida. Each region possessed sixteen "zenith passage" dates. The dates
varied, dependent on the latitude. The thirteenth occurrence was on August 13 in the
Puuc region and on August 17 in the Rio Bec region, solar angles associated with the
sunset at those dates varied also. The "azimuth of orientation: was 286*09' and
284*43', respectively; the data implied that exact latitudes would be necessary for
definitive angles and dates for any specific site. (Table 3, 84-5).
44. There was approximate geometric conformity between several angles documented by
Aveni as factors in urban and architectural orientations and those present at the four
streets which radiate outward from the former San Benito complex. Calle 65 west of
San Benito conformed approximately with August 17 Puuc "zenith passage" 75 16'.
Calle 67 west conformed approximately with September 2 Puuc, 81 01'. Calle 65
east was similar to August 31 Puuc, 278*58' (Ibid., Table 3, 84-5).
Calle 67 east was not similar to a "zenith" but was similar to the orientation of
another documented Maya building, Building 1 at the urban complex at Xkichmool,
288041' (Ibid., table 1, 81). The astronomical calculations were outside of this
architect's scope of expertise. My ability to distinguish between coincidence and
scientific probability was slight. In spite of that limit, the data appeared to justify
further research in the field of archaeology or archaeoastronomy.
45. There was a "mat", or throne (Chumayel), 61. Landa implied that the Maya complex
there was the largest in Tihoo, RY 13:358-62.
46. Chumavel, 141.
TWO IDEAS OF "CITY" AT
SIXTEENTH-CENTURY MERIDA: SPANISH AND MAYA
Comparing the Two Ideas of "City"
There is evidence in the early colonial chronicles that the founding and planning of
Spanish Merida possessed a central motive: its founders consciously sought to implement
an idealized model of theoretical urbanism. That model was probably a Spanish variation
of a Renaissance European phenomenon. The term "ideal civic theory" will be utilized in
this paper as the best description of the phenomenon. That idea was compared with the
parallel Encounter-era Maya idea of "city," for which there was evidence in both Spanish
and Maya chronicles. A definitive investigation of the Maya idea was outside of the scope
of this paper, but major elements of it could be identified utilizing translations of Maya
literature by other scholars and by adducing meaning from early-colonial Spanish
chronicles which contain descriptions of Maya architecture and urban culture.
Among the motives for the founding of Spanish Merida was a philosophical one:
the implementation of an idealized civic theory which implemented at an actual site a
Spanish Renaissance theory of "city" and "republic" whose origins were the Biblical "New
Jerusalem" and the idea of "republic" from ancient Mediterranean philosophers, especially
Plato. The Maya idea of "city" was parallel in some parts to the Spanish idea and
therefore early colonial Spaniards perceived an embodiment of their idea of "republic"
when they observed Maya architecture and urban culture. There were numerous examples
in early colonial Spanish chronicles in which Spaniards recognized Maya capitals as
"republics," as will be demonstrated in this chapter. Maya recognized their idea of "city"
when viewing the Spanish center of Merida.
Part One: Evidence of Ideal Civic Theory in The Spanish Idea of "City"
Spanish idealized civic theories were a part of a Renaissance phenomenon
examined by Helen Rosenau: the desire to create ideal cities. They resembled the
medieval idea of "New Jerusalem," in which Judeo-Christian religious beliefs were the
principal motives present in a society located in another dimension of reality, as examined
in the previous chapter.' The central idea had a complex philosophical base as well as
geometric ones, examined previously. The idea was present in descriptions of the
founding of Merida and other colonial cities as well as sixteenth-century Spanish
theoretical work on urbanism and society. Each type of documentation is examined in this
chapter; in each were concepts of idealized societies from both the medieval and the
Renaissance periods. Two types of concepts were present, one was religion-based, the
other was philosophical in nature. The presence of both demonstrated the probability that
sixteenth-century Spanish thought was in transition between the two periods.
A special theme is present in a study of ideal cities in New Spain. As cited
previously, Mexican and North American scholars had demonstrated significant evidence
for the influence in Mexico of two northern European Catholic ideal theorists: Erasmus
and Thomas More, especially the work Utopia by the latter, as well as other Renaissance
theorists, including Alberti. The ideas of Erasmus and More were shown to have
influenced resettlement and evangelization of Meso-American peoples by Mexico's first
bishop, Juan de Zumarraga. They acted also on the career of Viceroy Antonio de
Mendoza, who read also Alberti's De Reaedificatura. Those ideas influenced his acts in
founding a college and university and designing a model for monasteries. The third
example was the career of the Spaniard Vasco de Quiroga, who, influenced by the ideas of
Erasmus and More, founded two idealized hospital towns, Santa F6, in 1533, and another
in Michoacin. Those towns were designed to be simple Christian communities, with
frugal housing, gardens for vegetables, and a socialistic lifestyle in which all residents
received what they needed. Workers rotated between living in the town center and in the
surrounding rural area.2
Renaissance works on idealized cities and societies contained two characteristics:
the first was a special geometry. It was an implied symbol of the second, which was an
idealized society. The degree in which each was emphasized was a major distinguishing
characteristic. The work Utopia was an example. It focused on the nature of the idealized
society and contained a relatively brief description of an idealized urban geometry. It may
be compared to Campanella's City of the Sun in which the idealized urban geometry was a
major part of the description of which the following was an example:
"It is divided into seven rings... named for the seven planets";
each ring was ornamented to reflect aspects of science, such as
mathematical figures, flora, fauna, and "mechanical arts."3
Distinguishing Between The Meanings of Two Sixteenth-century Spanish Ideas:
"City" And "Republic"
The early colonial chronicles contained three terms which were significant for this
paper: "city," "republic" and "common good." The narratives implied that their meanings
were associated in an undefined manner. In the following example from Cogolludo's
chronicle, written in 1656 about events in 1542, it was stated that "nothing is lacking in a
republic which celebrates the common good." He then described Merida as both a "city"
and a "republic," implying that the terms were interchangeable.4 The use of the terms to
describe Spanish cities founded in the sixteenth century was not unique to Cogolludo.
Remesal described the founding of Guatemala's capital, Santiago de los Caballeros (now
Antigua), in 1528:
"and although this new Republic had citizens, judges, and council
"the care of... the common good ... and the citizens were not
bothered in any case that might exceed reason and justice."5
The probable meanings of the terms is demonstrated by evidence in three works.
The first was Castrillo's 1521 work, Tratado de Repmblica a sixteenth-century treatise on
urbanism and ideal society, cited previously. The second was Cogolludo's history; the
third was one of numerous works quoted by Castrillo: The Republic by Plato. Meanings
in those works were examined below.
"City" in The Early Colonial Period
The term "city" was utilized in the early colonial chronicles in such a manner that
several meanings were implied. First, it had probably a general sense identical to "city" in
both contemporary Spanish and English usages. It possessed another probable meaning as
well: it designates a capital and also an urban place of special prestige. It was used also
by Landa to describe an abandoned Maya capital, Chichen Itza, as is shown in this chapter.
It was used to designate Merida, while another term "villa" designated the other Spanish
settlements in the 1540s in Yucatan; it was used to designate the viceregal capital of
Mexico City.6 The special prestige implied that the designated place was the recipient of
Support for the thesis is in a description by Remesal: He described the settling of
San Crist6bal de los Llanos. The name was granted by the king, thereby "ennobling this
settlement with title of city." The naming allowed it to benefit from "the preeminencies,
prerogatives and immunities which it ought and could benefit by being a 'city'."
Cogolludo described how Merida was also formally named and its name was "the city of
Merida." No special privileges were recorded for it which were not recorded for other
Spanish cities in Yucatan, with one exception: Merida was one of few colonial city with a
dedicated periphery which included a municipal commons.
The chronicles imply that "city" described the'status of a capital in sixteenth-
century Yucatan. Among the Spanish settlements in Yucatan only Merida was called
"city." The other settlements were designated as "towns" ("villas"). Landa described
both Maya capital cities of Chichen Itza and Mayapan as "cities." The descriptions of
each focus on the presence of a noble lineage of rulers, one of whom, Cuculcan, named
the new city of Mayapan to document Maya heritage and not to glorify himself or his
family. The description implies both an idealized kingship of a European type, and also
the presence of a capital similar to a European capital.
Definition of "City" by Castrillo
Although there is no documentation that Castrillo influenced Cogolludo or
Remesal, the use of the terms "city," "republic" and "common good" by the two latter
writers is consistent with Castrillo's work in almost every quote. That phenomenon was
evidence that either Castrillo influenced later writers or that his treatise was similar to
another work (or works) which was the probable model. Castrillo defines "city" in several
passages First, it is defined by implication: it is associated with the highest human values.
He stated, "among all gatherings of peoples ... only the company of the city is felt by us
to be the most noble and of highest merit... [all other things]... are of less dignity ..."
Second. the city is associated with sustaining human life and good government. Castrillo
quotes Aristotle, "the city is not just anything, except that which is sufficient for life.
When the city is poorly governed... the discords grow.. ."9
Third, the city is defined as the top of a hierarchy of urban settlements Castrillo
quotes Marcus Aurelius, "In ancient times only Rome was a city. All other places were
called towns and to be a citizen of Rome was a thing of great honor."'0 By implication, in
Castrillo's time, a place which possessed the qualities of ancient Rome and which was in a
commanding role among a hierarchy of other urban places would deserve the designation
of"city," even though it was not the capital of an ancient empire.
Fourth, the city is described as one part in a continuum from the human individual
to the whole world. Castrillo refers to the definition of city by Saint Augustine who states
that it is one of three "principal levels of the human company." The first level was the
family house; the second was the city; the third was the whole circumference of the earth.
The idea was supported by a quote from Isidore who states, "the house is the abode of the
whole family, the city is the abode of a whole people, the world is the abode of the whole
line of humanity."" Castrillo states, therefore, that a "city" was a place of special prestige
and that it was associated in literature with a capital. The meaning of the term "city" in
quotes by Cogolludo, Remesal and Castrillo was, therefore, basically identical.
The narratives by Cogolludo and Remesal imply that a "republic" was a Spanish
municipality in the sixteenth century whose founding principles were based on a theory of
idealized cityhood. That idealized civic theory was in part defined by the term "common
good." There is considerable evidence in support of that hypothesis
Linguistic Evidence of Correlation Between The Meanings of "Republic" And
The Latin meaning of the term "de res public" was researched at the suggestion
of Murdo MacLeod. The term's Latin and Old French meanings, among others, were
"common good" and "common welfare." The Latin and Old French meanings correspond
to the English term "commonwealth." The meanings of the term imply physical common
welfare, rather than spiritual, intellectual or other abstract types." The etymology of the
words support the hypothesis that the sixteenth-century Spanish idea of "republic" was
associated with the term "common good."
Cogolludo's narrative implies that a "republic" was an organized society and
government whose justification was two-fold: implementation of the physical common
welfare for the designated citizens and establishment of a government based on the
concept of "justice." That idea is consistent with the definition of "republic" in both
Castrillo's treatise and in Plato's Republic, as follows:
Cogolludo's Description of a "Republic"
Cogolludo describes the installation ofMerida's first municipal government:
among the list of officials were four council members names as deputies of the city whose
charge was to "place much attention on the common good." He then states, "... Thus
was the republic of Merida being settled, and in order to improve it. .they. .petitioned
that Montejo [the son] commission a layout for the city.. .""
The narrative implies several pieces of data: the new municipality was considered
as being both a "city" and a "republic" and the physical plan for the city was considered to
be a part of the "common good." In another description, Cogolludo states that "in a
formed republic, which was beginning to enjoy the tranquility that so many desired, that
[no] excesses be permitted." He then describes appointing a town crier and setting up a
gallows on a nearby pyramid, stating, ". .. it is extremely certain that there is no better
security for the conservation of a republic than the observance ofjustice and laws."'4 The
description is evidence that the idea of "republic" included the provision of municipal
Castrillo's Definition of "City" and "Republic"
Castrillo defines the historical and religious origins of his theory by stating that the
first societies which were "republics" were ancient Israel and Greece. The thesis was
supported then by quotes from ancient philosophers and early Christian theologians,
especially Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Saint Augustine, and the Spaniard Isidore, examples
of which are quoted below. Castrillo defines "republic" in a quote from Aristotle: "The
republic is a certain order or manner of living instituted and chosen among those who live
in the same city."15 Castrillo expanded then the idea of republic by defining an idealized
form of citizenship. He implied that the presence of that citizenship was the same quality
as Aristotle's "certain order of living," quoted above.