Merida

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It is no coincidence that the state of Merida and its capital have the same name. The thousands of native and foreign visitors who come to this Andean paradise in western Venezuela want to know both the historical and university-like city as well as the splendid beauty of the surroundings blessed by a wide diversity of features. This diversity ranges from the snowed Pico de Bol鉚var, the highest peak in Venezuela with an altitude of 5,007 meters (16,450 feet), to the small and tropical Palmarito beach, located on the southeast side of Maracaibo Lake. Only by visiting one of the four national parks that cover an area of about 750,000 hectares (about 1,85 million acres), 12 state parks, three natural monuments, or 172 glacier lagoons, tasting freshly caught selected trout, visiting coffee growers' farms and chapels lost in the heights, buying handicraft in its place of origin, and walking the tough Andean paths, can you say you indeed visited Merida. And if we add the stay at a rustic and cosy inn in the mountains, by the heat of a comforting fireplace, then the trip will be complete.

THE CITY

Merida stretches long and narrow along a valley located at an altitude of 1,625 meters (5,331 feet), next to the majestic Sierra Nevada (snowed mountain). Its position is diagonal, from northeast to southwest. The city is crossed by the rivers Chama on the west side, and the Albarregas practically through the middle. The rivers Milla and Mucuj煤n join the latter in the northern area of the city. Three transverse viaducts join the two parts of the city divided by river Albarregas; they are the Sucre, Miranda, and Campo El鉚as viaducts. Our panorama follows the same south to north direction of that of the first Spaniards who arrived in the zone and founded the city.

From the south boundary (La Parroquia-Alto Chama) and Sucre viaduct, through Miranda viaduct (Calle 38)

Although this section represents half of the city lengthwise, in the practice its density and tourist appeal are less abundant than those found in the northern half which, paradoxically, includes both the most traditional and the most modern sectors of Merida, one on each side of the river. Nevertheless, in the southern part there are spots that no informed tourist should miss.

Avenida Andr茅s Bello (that later becomes Avenida Urdaneta) is the most interesting place in the area. La Parroquia is located in its south end, renowned for its magic-religious festivals as well as for large, old houses of great interest; and El Punto sector, currently Zumba (Urbanizaci貿n Alto Chama), where Merida was born for the second time, though it would not be the last.

Along the above-mentioned avenue, the chain of parks will catch your eye. Merida has 28 urban parks, more than any other city in Venezuela, apart from squares and monuments scattered about. Besides pure parks, here you will also find the Parque Jard鉚n Acuario, the Museo de Ciencia y Tecnolog鉚a, and the monument to Juan Rodr鉚guez Su謾rez (Xu謾rez), founder of the city.

Avenida Andr茅s Bello changes names to Avenida Urdaneta and leads to Sucre viaduct. At this point, the facilities of Aeropuerto Alberto Carnevalli begin, which extend to the next viaduct: Miranda. The airport has a colonial style that enchants tourists, and a location in the middle of the city and too close to the mountain which pilots do not like. Other well-maintained parks enhance the airports surroundings.

Apart from the interesting spots above mentioned, other ones on Avenida Andr茅s Bello or Urdaneta besides parks, squares, and monuments include Alto Chama, Las Tapias, and San Crist貿bal shopping malls as well as a number of restaurants and high quality stores that offer a wide variety of goods. Towards the east, behind the airport, is Estadio Ol鉚mpico Guillermo Soto Rosa, Gimnasio 9 de Octubre, Estadio de B茅isbol Libertador, the Piscina Ol鉚mpica and Hospital de la Universidad de Los Andes.

If you cross Albarregas river through Miranda viaduct and reach the Avenida Las Am茅ricas, you will stand before the modern Mercado Principal de Merida (street market), a recommended visit if you want to get to know the Andean idiosyncrasy and handicraft, or want to buy products from the region. Across from it is Mercado Murach鉚.

Between Miranda (Calle 38) and Campo El鉚as (Calle 26) viaducts

Without returning by the same path you came just yet, you will be able to see here the first sculptures of the Museo Mariano Pic貿n Salas inside Parque Albarregas, which extends between Miranda and Campo El鉚as viaducts. Further up this same Avenida Las Am茅ricas you will find the bullfight ring Plaza de Toros Rom謾n Eduardo Sandia.

Once you return to the other side of the river, Avenida Andr茅s Bello or Avenida Urdaneta takes a third name: Avenida 3, with a new park at this point, the Parque Glorias Patrias. Heading northward, between Calles 29 and 28 is Plaza Rangel del Llano and its monument and church. Beside that is the famous Helader鉚a Coromoto.

From Campo El鉚as viaduct (Calle 26) to the traditional citys north end (Calle 13)

This is the area where Merida was finally established, after its two first foundations in the current San Juan de Lagunillas and El Punto or Zumba. Here, especially around Plaza Bol鉚var, located between Calles 23 and 22, and Avenidas 3 and 4, you'll find the greatest examples of Meridas architectural and historical heritage. This part of the city is included in our Recommended Tours.

Plaza de Las Hero鉚nas Meride帽as and the Telef茅rico de Merida

This is one of our Recommended Tours within the same zone that covers Plaza de Las Hero鉚nas and Telef茅rico de Merida, located at the west end of Calles 24 or 25 where no other avenues cross. Here is what might be Meridas most widely known landmark: the Telef茅rico, or cable car. It is not unusual for a person to travel to Merida exclusively to take this tour.

Beside the Telef茅rico is the beautiful Plaza de Las Hero鉚nas. Since the Telef茅rico is such a tourist attraction, it is not unusual that the surroundings of this square are full of hotels, restaurants, handicraft shops, tourist guides and transportation, and everything that can be of interest for the visitor. Next to the plaza and opposite the Telef茅rico is the noteworthy Mercado Artesanal Manuel Rojas Guill茅n (handicraft market).

Avenida Universidad and Avenida Chorros de Milla

Finally, in Meridas northwest end we find a zone that has different appeals and covers a vast sector around Avenida Universidad and Avenida Chorros de Milla. This zone makes part of our Recommended Tours.

GOING OUT OF THE CITY

Merida-Apartaderos route (Santo Domingo and Pico El 脕guila)

The spots along this 58 kilometer route to Apartaderos are countless and in an almost non-stop succession await tourists to satisfy their most varied likes. Theme parks, different types of hotels and colonial inns, handicraft stores, trout farms, fruit and vegetables, high quality food, quiet and silent lagoons, cold hillsides covered with long-lived plants typical of the moors, pointed peaks and twisted mountain paths, churches and chapels made of stone, cosy villages, and mostly breathtaking views of deep and endless valleys that conform this daydream journey which branches off once you get to Apartaderos, either to Santo Domingo or towards Pico El 脕guila (Eagles Peak). This route is a recommended one, since it makes part of the visit to Merida, despite its being lengthy.

Merida-Jaj鉚 route

Among the attractions along the route towards the southwest we should mention in the first place Alexis y La Venezuela de Antier (Alexis & The Day Before Yesterdays Venezuela), a theme park that revives scenes and characters of our history, located 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the city. On the way to Jaj鉚 you may appreciate the great water fall and natural monument of La Chorrera de Las Gonz謾lez and visit the craftsmens town of Los Gu謾imaros as well as the craftsmens and musical village of La Mesa de Ejido or La Mesa de Los Indios. Jaj鉚 is the only fully colonial village that remains in the country. It is just 37 kilometers (23 miles) away from Merida, and visiting it is a must.

Other routes

Many of the trips to villages, mountains, valleys, sown fields, hot springs, water falls, rivers, and lakes can be taken in one day. Others need a little more time and often demand great physical condition or a 4 wheel-drive vehicle, a mountain bike, or a mule.

History of Merida

War and culture comprise Merida's historical backbone. Inevitably, the citys foundation was not established by means of books but by means of the sword. Coming from New Granadas city of Pamplona to search for gold and subdue native Indians if necessary, Spaniard Juan Rodr鉚guez Su謾rez (Xu謾rez), known as The red caped captain, made his way through the Sierras Nevadas (Snowed Mountains), and arrived exactly in the village of Xam煤 or Jam煤 (nowadays San Juan de Lagunillas, located 19 miles south from todays Merida). Without being authorized by anyone, he decided to found a city on October 9, 1558 by naming it Merida, in memory of his native Merida de Extremadura in Spain. But this foundation would not last for long since, due to the constant attacks by the neighboring natives, it had to be moved to El Punto in 1559 (a place known today as Zumba, in the citys south end) where Merida was born for the second time, though it would not be the last.

Although October 9, 1558 has been recorded in history as the official date of Meridas foundation and Juan Rodr鉚guez Su謾rez as its founder, it was not deemed as such by New Granadas authorities who considered the foundation illegal for not being official. As a consequence, they sent Juan de Maldonado to legalize the new sites situation and to arrest Rodr鉚guez Su謾rez. He complied with both orders: he moved the city to its present location, at a higher spot of the plateau, and renamed it Santiago de Los Caballeros de Merida on June 24, 1560. Su謾rez was taken back to Bogot謾 for prosecution, with capital punishment as the sentence. Only the intervention of the Archbishop of Bogot謾 prevented the sentence from taking place, and friends helped him escape. He then returned to the Province of Venezuela and was welcomed and sheltered in Trujillo City, thus becoming Americas first political refugee. However, these troubled early stages of the city resulted in a long history of fights between both Rodr鉚guez Su謾rezs and Maldonados parties and descendants, which lasted for two centuries.

If struggle--not only against the natives but among the Spaniards--characterized Meridas foundation, the cultural vocation that has given it the nickname of Venezuelas university campus dates from pre-Hispanic times. This territory used to be the home for Tatuy or Mucumbache culture, considered the northernmost expression of the Inca culture. It is not surprising that San Francisco Javier Seminary, created by Jesuits in 1600, would be a seed sown in fertile land which two centuries later would bear its greatest fruit: the university, aim and bed of Meridas arts and science, and second in seniority to that of Caracas.

After creating the Capitan鉚a General de Venezuela in 1777, which separated these lands from Provincia de Pamplona in New Granada, Merida emerged as an Episcopal See in 1778 and, in 1780, Brother Juan Ramos de Lora was appointed as the first bishop of Merida and Maracaibos diocese. Even though it took him five years to settle in Merida, it only took him one month and three days to found in 1785 a study center which would later become Real Colegio Seminario de San Buenaventura de Merida and, in 1810, it would turn into Pontificia Universidad de San Buenaventura de Merida de Los Caballeros. Transformed in 1832, it acquired its present name of Universidad de Los Andes in 1883. The university has not only characterized Meridas history and idiosyncrasy, but has also covered it geographically, since its faculties are spread around different urban areas. In the words of Meridean intellectual Mariano Pic貿n Salas, Merida is a university with a city inside.

The above-mentioned year of 1810 is noteworthy for the level of cohabitation between Meridas books and artillery. On September 16, the city proclaimed its support to the independence cause begun in Caracas on April 19 of the same year. On September 21, five days later, the university was born. The citys independent spirit, probably inherited from its untamed founder, meant a huge amount of human and material sacrifice as well as glorious pages during Sim貿n Bol鉚vars "Admirable Campaign" and, especially, during his journey through the Andes in 1813. Merida was the first city to grant him the title of Liberator, and it is here where the first monument in memory of Bol鉚var was erected in the world, which consists of a column and a bust built in 1842 and that can be appreciated at the Parque de Las Cinco Rep煤blicas (Five Republics Park).

Merida was not only struck by war throughout its history but by Mother Nature as well. The renowned writer from Merida, Tulio Febres Cordero, recorded a list with a total of 131 seismic movements that occurred from 1610 (the year in which the first earthquake recorded and described by Brother Pedro Sim貿n took place) to 1930. One of the most tragic tremors was in 1812, when about 1,000 people lost their lives, a devastating figure for a population who, 60 years later and according to 1873s census, had barely reached 3,317 inhabitants.

Fortunately, the great wars and earthquakes are buried in the past, allowing this noble town to fully develop the vast wealth that characterizes it. Its richness ranges from the diligent harvesting of the crops on the rough mountains' slopes and the delicate production of the most varied handicraft, to the greatest scientific and humanistic contributions made by its inhabitants, and their present leadership in regard to state-of-the-art technology, communications, and tourism.

Present Merida, with a population of 600,000 in the year 2000, is a worthy child of her history. The ancient and educated pre-Hispanic indigenous people who lived in these heights would not have disliked the city that graces their land these days.

 

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