What an amazing find! The State of Campeche certainly tops my list of surprises in Mexico. It seems to be a given that the western region of the Yucatán is a bit “sleepy” relative to other places in the country. What I discovered is that Campeche City is vibrant, even if it is not as robust as other cities I’ve visited. In 1999, UNESCO declared and listed Campeche City as a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity due to its preservation of the fortified walls from the XVII century.
What Campeche does not lack is history! Founded in the mid-1500’s, it prospered because of the tremendous value of its timber resources. The palo de tinta (or palo de Campeche) is wood that gives off a reddish to dark-blue ink. This quality was known by the Maya’s, but completely exploited by the Spanish entrepreneurs who invaded the Yucatán. Not to be outdone, pirates from England, France, and the Netherlands robbed the galleons transporting these logs and other precious commodities en route to Europe.
Logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum L.), highly prized as a dyestuff for the European textile industry, attracted British smugglers who settled mainly in Laguna de Términos and Belize, where they were a threat to local trade.
Museo Baluarte de la Soledad (Mayan Architecture)
This museum is worth visiting for the information-packed videos when you reach the fourth display area (dealing with funerary customs of the ancient Maya). I appreciated the explanation of they type of tools used to construct the pyramids as well as the use of these buildings.
The ancient Mayas employed hammers, wedges, and chisels made of stone or wood. Limestone blocks were joined with stucco (lime and sand mix), also used to surface buildings with painted platers of different colors, and to model figures adorning both facades and inner spaces. Building decoration also included stone sculptures, as well as hieroglyphic inscriptions and carvings on lintels, columns, and jambs.
“The distribution and shape of decorative elements (such as this winged figure) varied by region and through time. In Campeche, at least four regions have been identified with distinctive architectural styles that could indicate political or cultural exchange networks. In all of these cases, Maya cities consisted of two basic areas: a civic-ceremonial precinct, where rulers lived and conducted their administrative and ritual activities, and a residential area located on the outskirts of the city, where the rest of the people dwelled.”
Zona Arqueológica de Edzná
Museo de Piratas
The disturbing image in the lower left of the collage is from the small Pirate Museum. It is not to be missed! You can get through the displays in about 20 minutes, but you’ll come out with a deeper historical perspective and understanding of a topic that other museums gloss over. Because of the lucrative lumber trade between the Yucatán and Europe, piracy flourished, too. Legends have been spun from the seemingly heroic feats of these men, but that is not to glorify the cruelty they meted to those they captured and killed. This museum has realistic effigies of pirate prisoners that will startle you. A wall of pirates (left) and defenders (right).
Museo Cultural de Campeche
I loved seeing the handicrafts that the Campechanos had to innovate to use as payments for their land grants. Did you know that the Mayans were essential indentured workers.
The Mayans had to deliver payment in goods to the encomenderos (land grant holders), the Spanish Crown, and civil and ecclesiastical authorities. These products included cotton mantles woven by the women, was and honey, collected by the men from the stingless bees int he region’s jungles; in addition to corn, beans, chilies, hens, fish, and iguanas.
Salt had to also be mined nearby to supply two major industries: hide and leather work, and salting and preserving meat and fish to feed the people on the galleons.
Centro Cultural Casa No. 6
Items pictured are typical to Campeche!