A SMART WAY TO TRAVEL
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Just 45 minutes from Merida, Izamal is one of 38 towns in Mexico that has had the honor of being named a Pueblo Magico. In order to be named a Magical Town by the Mexican Secretary of Tourism it is necessary that traditional secular and ancestral ways of life rooted in the indigenous past or in the grand legacy of the Spanish colonial period be preserved by its inhabitants. The historical significance of the pueblo is also considered. Pueblos Magicos have access to federal funds for publicity, preservation and improvements.
The first reason that Izamal is considered magical is because it’s yellow. It’s ALL yellow. The convent, the market, the colonial style buildings…everything is painted yellow. Horse drawn buggies (calesas) travel up and down the cobblestone streets and iron lampposts light their way at night. The Yellow City is a combination of cultures; ancient Mayan, Spanish colonial and present day.
Izamal was founded during the late Formative Period (750-200 BC). Five giant Pre-Columbian structures are visible from modern day Izamal; a pyramid dedicated to the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Kak Mo, Ppap Hol Chak, which was partially destroyed by the construction of a Franciscan temple during the 16th century, a pyramid, Hun Pik Tok, and two temples, Itzamatul and Kabul. Thanks to the work of Mexican archeologists, over 160 archeologically important structures have been mapped in Izamal and the general area.
After the Spanish conquest of Yucatan a Spanish colonial city was founded atop the existing Mayan city. Much of the Pre-Columbian cut stone was reused to build the Spanish churches, monastery and surrounding buildings. Izamal served as the primary residence of a controversial figure in the Christianization of Central America, Diego de Landa Calderon, a Spanish Bishop. He arrived in 1549 and was in charge of bringing the Roman Catholic religion to the Maya. During a ceremony in 1562 De Landa burned at least 40 Mayan codices and cult images. De Landa later deeply regretted his actions and wrote a book “Relación de las cosas de Yucatán” in which he catalogued the Mayan religion, language, culture and writing system. It is still regarded as the best existing historical document on the Maya.
Izamal’s more recent history has also been quite colorful. In 1975 an official in charge of land redistribution was repeatedly accused of political corruption. Izamal residents sent letters of complaint to Merida and Mexico City but received no response. The official was found stoned to death under a large pile of rocks in the town square. A Mexican Army unit was sent to investigate the incident but failed to find anyone in town who knew anything about what happened.
One of Izamal’s biggest claims to fame is the 1993 visit of Pope John Paul II. The Pope performed a mass and presented the statue of the Virgin with a silver crown. His visit was commemorated with a statue in his likeness in the convent courtyard. Residents of Izamal are generally very religious and devoted to the Immaculate Virgin. Modern day Izamal is a place of veneration of Roman Catholic saints. Several saint statues are said to perform miracles. The city’s patron saint is the Virgin of Immaculate Conception and her statue is particularly revered.
While visiting Izamal, one cannot miss the Light of the Maya, a 30 minute light and sound show which takes place Monday through Saturday at 8:30pm in the Franciscan convent. The Light of the Maya is a spectacular spiritual presentation which combines strolling monks, incense, narration, projected light, images and music.
Izamal, also known as The City of Hills, probably referring to the many covered (some are now partially or completely uncovered) Mayan structures in the area, is indeed a Magical Town, a Pueblo Magico overflowing with rich history where residents and visitors experience the marriage of the ancient past with the modern day present.
To get to Izamal from Cancun take Highway 180 towards Merida and west of Valladoid take the road marked Izamal. This turn off is very well marked. There are also some bus companies that provide service to Izamal from the ADO Bus Station in downtown Cancun.