Yucatán, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatán, is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities, and its capital city is Mérida.
It is located in Southeastern Mexico, on the north part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is bordered by the states of Campeche to the southwest, Quintana Roo to the northeast and the Gulf of Mexico lies off its north coast.
Before the arrival of Spaniards to the Yucatán Peninsula, the name of this region was el Mayab. In Mayan language, "ma' ya'ab" is translated as "a few". It was a very important region for the Mayan civilization, which reached the peak of its development on this place, where they founded the cities of Chichen Itza, Izamal, Motul, Mayapan, Ek' Balam and Ichcaanzihóo (also called T'Hó), now Mérida.
After the Spanish conquest, Yucatán Peninsula was a single administrative and political entity, the Captaincy General of Yucatán. Following independence and the breakup of the Mexican Empire in 1823, the first Republic of Yucatán was proclaimed which then was voluntarily annexed to the Federal Republic of United Mexican States on December 21, 1823. Later on March 16, 1841, as result of cultural and political conflicts around the federal pact, Yucatán declared independence from Mexico to form a second Republic of Yucatán, but eventually on July 14, 1848, Yucatán was definitely rejoined to Mexico. In 1858, in the middle of the caste war, the state of Yucatan was divided for the first time, establishing Campeche as separate state (officially in 1863). During the Porfiriato, in 1902, the state of Yucatan was divided again to form the Federal territory that later became the present state of Quintana Roo.
Today, Yucatán is the safest state in Mexico and Mérida was awarded City of Peace in 2011.
The written history of Yucatán begins after the Spanish conquest. In the distant past, 65 million years ago, a meteorite fell causing a global catastrophe that wiped out dinosaurs, along with other species on earth and formed the Chicxulub crater.
The origin of the first settlements has not been scientifically confirmed, although the presence of first humans in the area dates from the late Pleistocene or ice age (about 10,000 – 12,000 years), according to the findings in the Loltún caves and caverns of Tulum (Women of the Palms).
The first Maya moved to the Peninsula circa 250 CE, from the Petén (today northern Guatemala), to settle the southeastern peninsula in the modern Bacalar, Quintana Roo. In 525, the Chanés (Mayan tribe that preceded the Itza), moved to the east of the peninsula, founding Chichén Itzá, Izamal, Motul, Ek' Balam, Ichcaanzihó (modern Mérida) and Champotón. Later, Tutul xiúes, Toltec descent, who came from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, settled in the region causing displacement of the Itza and Cocomes —a diversified branch of Itzá—, and finally, after years and many battles, was formed Mayapán League (composed of the Itza, the Xiús and Cocomes), that eventually disintegrated circa 1194, giving way to a period of anarchy and fragmentation into small domains which the Spanish conquistadors found in 16th century.
Exploration by Conquistadors
In 1513, Juan Ponce de León had already conquered the island of Borinquén (now Puerto Rico) and had discovered Florida. Antón de Alaminos, who was with Ponce de León on this latest discovery, suspected that in west of Cuba they could find new land. Under their influence, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, supported by the governor of Cuba, organized an expedition commanded by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba to explore the west seas of the island.
This expedition sailed from port of Ajaruco on February 8, 1517, to La Habana and after circling the island and sailing south west by what is now known as the Yucatán Channel, the expedition made landfall at the Yucatán Peninsula on March 1. There are discrepancies about where the first explorers arrived. Some say it was in Isla Mujeres. Bernal Díaz del Castillo places it at Cabo Catoche where they saw a great city which they named the «Gran Cairo».
The conquest of Yucatan was completed two decades after the conquest of Mexico; by Francisco de Montejo "el Adelantado", his son Francisco de Montejo y León "el Mozo" and his nephew, Francisco de Montejo "el Sobrino". El Adelantado was in the expedition of Juan de Grijalva and was with Hernán Cortés in the third expedition that eventually became the Conquest of Mexico. He was subsequently appointed for the conquest of the maya of Yucatán, but failed in his first attempt in 1527–28. In 1529 he was appointed Governor of Tabasco, with the order to pacify Tabasco and conquer Yucatán and Cozumel.
From Tabasco, Montejo led a new campaign to Yucatán by western (1531–35) and failed again in his attempt. Circa 1535, after many bloody battles with the natives, he reached the complete pacification of the Province of Tabasco and began planning his new foray to Yucatán.
El Adelantado was appointed governor of Honduras and then of Chiapas. Therefore, he gave his son "El Mozo", the mission to consummate the conquest of Yucatán. Francisco de Montejo y León "el Mozo" founded the cities of San Francisco de Campeche on October 4, 1540, and Mérida on January 6, 1542 (in honor of Mérida, Extremadura). The city of Merida was founded over the ruins of the Mayan city of Ichkanzihóo (T'hó) and were used for the new buildings, the stones of old Mayan pyramids. Later, government powers were changed from Santa María de la Victoria, Tabasco, to Mérida on June 11, 1542. The newly founded Mérida was besieged by the Mayan troops of Nachi Cocom (overlord or 'Halach uinik' in Mayan language). It was a definitive battle for the Conquest of Yucatán. With that victory, the Spaniards consolidated their domain on the west of the peninsula.
Francisco de Montejo "El Adelantado" appointed his nephew, Francisco de Montejo "el Sobrino", the conquest of the eastern Yucatán, which was achieved after many bloody battles, ending with the foundation of the city of Valladolid on May 28, 1543.
Canek rebellion, during the colonial Yucatán
Oppressive policies of inequality and prejudice were imposed on the native Mayans by the Spanish colonial government. In November 1761, Jacinto Canek, a Mayan from the town of Cisteil (now located in Yaxcabá Municipality), led an armed uprising against the government, which was quickly put down. Captured insurgents were taken to Mérida, where they were tried and tortured. As a warning to the population against rebellion, Cisteil was burned and covered with salt.
This abortive rebellion was not of great consequence to the colonial regime, but it marked the history of the peninsula and clearly delineated anti-colonial tensions in the region. The uprising was a precursor to the social upheaval that would explode less than a century later, as the Caste War. The Canek rebellion is remembered today as a symbol of the racial and social conflict that predominated for centuries in the Spanish colonies.
Yucatán in independent Mexico
Because of its geographical remoteness from the center of New Spain, especially from Mexico City, Yucatán was not militarily affected by the Mexican War of Independence, but the war influenced the enlightened people of Yucatán. In 1820 Lorenzo de Zavala, member of Sanjuanistas (a group of creoles who met at the church of San Juan in downtown Mérida), created the Patriotic Confederation, which eventually divided into two groups: the supporters of the Spanish government under the Cádiz Constitution and another led by Zavala, which sought outright independence from Spain. Mariano Carrillo Albornoz then Governor of Yucatán, sent Zavala and Manuel García Sosa as deputies of the Cádiz Cortes to Madrid, while the other liberals were imprisoned. While this was happening in Yucatán, the Plan of Iguala was proclaimed in the current state of Guerrero (at that time part of the Intendency of Mexico).
On September 15, 1821, in the Hall of Councils of the City of Merida, Yucatán declares its independence from Spain, almost immediately, Governor Juan María Echeverri sent two representatives to negotiate the incorporation of Yucatán to the Mexican Empire. The incorporation to the Mexican Empire was on November 2, 1821.
Republic of Yucatán
The Mexican Empire was quickly overthrown under the Plan of Casa Mata, the provinces of the empire became independent states. The first Republic of Yucatán, declared on May 29, 1823, joined the Federal Republic of the United Mexican States as the Federated Republic of Yucatán on December 23, 1823.
The second Republic of Yucatán emerged when the federal pact signed by Yucatán and endorsed in the Constitution of Yucatán of 1825 was broken by the centralist government of Mexico since 1835. In 1841 the state of Tabasco decreed its separation from Mexico and Miguel Barbachano, then governor of Yucatán, sent a commission headed by Justo Sierra O'Reilly to meet with Tabasco authorities to propose the creation of an independent federal republic from Mexico formed by the two states. The idea failed when Tabasco rejoined Mexico in 1842.
On August 22, 1846, Mexican interim president José Mariano Salas restored the 1824 constitution and the federalism. Two years later, during the government of president José Joaquín de Herrera, Miguel Barbachano ordered the reinstatement of Yucatán to Mexico under the Constitution of Yucatán of 1825. A decisive factor for the reinstatement was the Caste War, which forced Yucatán to seek outside help. In 1852 due to internal struggles between opposing political factions, was created the Territory of Campeche. On April 29, 1863, during the government of Benito Juárez, Campeche gained its current status as an independent state.
Flag of Yucatán
The flag of Yucatán was raised on March 16, 1841. The period of the Republic of Yucatán was the only one in which the banner was officially used by the authorities of Yucatán.
Rodolfo Menéndez de la Peña, historian, describes the flag of Yucatán:
The Caste War of Yucatán was a conflict that lasted from 1847 to 1901. It began with the revolt of native Maya people led by Maya chiefs Jacinto Pat and Cecilio Chi, against the population of European descent called "Yucatecos", who had political and economic control. A lengthy war ensued between the Yucateco forces in the north-west of the Yucatán and the independent Maya in the south-east. It officially ended with the occupation of the Maya capital of Chan Santa Cruz by the Mexican army in 1901, although skirmishes with villages and small settlements that refused to acknowledge Mexican control continued for over another decade.
Adam Jones wrote: "This ferocious race war featured genocidal atrocities on both sides, with up to 200,000 killed."
Because of the conflict, on November 24, 1902, Yucatán had a second territorial division when Porfirio Díaz decreed the creation of the Federal Territory of Quintana Roo, with capital in the port of Payo Obispo (today Chetumal). In little more than half a century, Yucatán lost more than two thirds of its original territory.
The henequen industry
In the late 19th century, the henequen industry grew to unprecedented power in the Yucatan. The henequen grown in the Yucatan was used around the world for rope and twine, and became known as sisal rope, named after the seaside town of Sisal, from where the rope was shipped. Today Sisal is a sleepy fishing village, being rediscovered by locals and visitors as a beach location for vacation homes. The henequen industry provided financial autonomy to the isolated Yucatán. The fiber of Henequén plant (known as sosquil (maya: sos kí)) was manufactured into twine and rope, used in riggings, string, sacks, rugs, and many other items. It became the chief export item of the Yucatán, making many local families very wealthy. That wealth is today evident in the architecture of the colonial city of Mérida, as well as in the more than 150 haciendas that are spread throughout the Yucatán Peninsula.
Hundreds of prosperous haciendas abounded in the state until the advent of synthetic products after World War II, the cultivation of Henequén in other parts of the world and the self-serving actions of some of the leading henequen-growing families led to the gradual decline of the Yucatan's monopoly on the industry.
The incredible influx of wealth during that period from the henequn industry focused mainly on Merida, the capital of Yucatan State. It allowed the city of Mérida to install street lights and a tram system even before Mexico City. It is said that in the early 20th century, the city had the largest number of millionaires per capita in the world. Today, Paseo de Montejo (inspired by the Parisian avenue Champs-Élysées), is lined with the elegant houses built during that time. These houses are mostly now renovated and serve as everything from private homes to banks, hotels and restaurants. Many of the haciendas today have also been renovated and now serve as private homes, event venues and upscale luxury hotels.
Late 20th century
Until the mid-20th century most of Yucatán's contact with the outside world was by sea; trade with the USA and Cuba, as well as Europe and other Caribbean islands, was more significant than that with the rest of Mexico. In the 1950s Yucatán was linked to the rest of Mexico by railway, followed by highway in the 1960s, ending the region's comparative isolation. Today Yucatán still demonstrates a unique culture from the rest of Mexico, including its own style of food.
Commercial jet airplanes began arriving in Mérida in the 1960s, and additional international airports were built first in Cozumel and then in the new planned resort community of Cancún in the 1980s, making tourism a major force in the economy of the Yucatán Peninsula.
The first Maya governor of Yucatán, Francisco Luna Kan, was elected in 1976.
Today, the Yucatán Peninsula is a major tourism destination, as well as home to one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico, the Maya people.