Mérida was founded by Spaniard Francisco de Montejo in 1542, at the site of the former Mayan city of T'ho. Because of geographic obstacles such as mountains and rivers between here and Mexico City, Yucatán developed in closer relation to Spain, France, England and the U.S. than with the government of Mexico. Trade with other countries was always important as an industry, and the henequén
(or sisal) boom in the 19th century added to the riches of the area. In the early 1910s, Mérida boasted more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world. Evidence of this can be seen in the many mansions in all parts of the city. Today, the development of nearby resort areas has further enriched the local population.
Originally home to the Mayan people, Yucatán was seized by the Spanish immediately after the Conquest. Rather than wiping out the indigenous people, the Spanish intermingled and intermarried with the Maya, forming a new and interesting mix, both of blood and of culture. Today, Yucatán is home to former Spanish royalty, former Mayan royalty, and just about everything in between. The Mayan and Spanish influences are felt in the local architecture, in the unique cuisine (visit Los Dos Cooking School for more about this subject
), and even in the highly civilized and formal demeanor and speech of the people in their daily work and play. The local government sponsors enjoyable public events every day of the week, as well as supporting world-class theatre, art exhibitions, dance companies, opera and the new Mérida symphony orchestra.