Spanish Merida overlaying the Maya city


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Spanish Merida overlaying the Maya city
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xiv, 266 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Lindsay, Mark Childress
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Subjects / Keywords:
City planning -- Mexico -- Mérida -- 16th century   ( lcsh )
Architecture -- Mexico -- Mérida -- 16th century   ( lcsh )
Urban plants -- Mexico -- 16th century   ( lcsh )
Maya architecture -- Mexico -- Mérida   ( lcsh )
Mayas -- Antiquities -- Mexico -- Mérida   ( lcsh )
History -- Mérida (Mexico)   ( lcsh )
Architecture thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Architecture -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1999.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 253-265).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Mark Childress Lindsay.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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aleph - 002465948
notis - AMH1376
oclc - 41929152
sobekcm - AA00004704_00001
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Copyright 1999


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

my presentation.

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



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .......................................... iii

LIST OF FIGURES ...............................................

KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS ............................................

ABSTRACT ..................................................


1 INTRODUCTION ............................................. 1

Thesis of the Dissertation ................ .................... 1
M ethodology ................ .............................. 5
Principal Historical Sources ................................... 9
Characteristics of the Research ............ .... ................ 10
N otes ................ .................................. 14


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


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

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

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

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

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


Figure page

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


Figure Rage

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

Figure page

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








1864-5 Plan
(of Merida)


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



Mark Childress Lindsay

May, 1999

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

university education.

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,

and archaeoastronomy.

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

Columbian encounter.


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

historical chronicles.

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 Method

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.


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.

State Capital
Other Towns
Ruin Sites



S. Euan
AkM Izamal

Abala Yunkiu

. Uxmal





Ch;chen ItzA



Map of Yucatan.







z *

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

Spanish settlement.7

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

native peoples."9

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.

Characteristic Two:
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.""

Characteristic Three:
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

documented below.

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
wanted it."40

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

around Merida:

"... 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

Adelantado's program.4


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.

19. Ibid.

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
lands (1:365).

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.

25. Ibid.

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,
1982), xii.

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.

40. Ibid.

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).


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

geometric grid.

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

symbolic significance.

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

1. Cathedral
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
13. Seminary
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



I ,

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

cardinal directions.4

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
Colonial Period

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 one-quarter block subdivision

--- Great Pyr~mid base (hypoth.)

A Plaza

B Pyramid

C Cathedral

D Royal Ho ses

E Small Plaza

1 Montejo Residence

2 Alfonso Ldpez

3 70 Remain'g 68 settlers (70 total,
including Montejo)

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:

Function Size
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

otherwise documented.1

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
Sixteenth Century

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:


119 A4..*

Plan of probable 5-block by 5-block core of Merida in 1542.



Plan of probable 5-block by 5-block core of Santiago de los Caballeros,
Guatemala, sixteenth-century.

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


Anomaly One
Anomaly Three

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

careful examination.

Anomaly One

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.

Anomaly Two

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
Acanceh 13.5
Chapab (Prob. Maya) 14
Dzan 170
Euan 100
Mama 18.50
Mani 190
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.. .

Landa stated:

"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

84 40'


0 1OOM

7I0 4O0'f

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

church complex.

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
the pyramid
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
I ,

t .

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

astronomical/cosmological phenomena.

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
Cultura, 1951).

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,
1990) 72-5.

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
been studied.

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. .."
RY, 11:54).

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.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

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.


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
members ...

"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

special privileges.

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
"Common Good"

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.