Yucatán Road Trip: Museo Arqueológico de Campeche, Fuerte de San Miguel

The Archaeological Museum of Campeche (Museo Arqueológico de Campeche) is located in Fuerte de San Miguel, a short drive south of the city center. Begun in 1771, the colonial, sea-facing fortress is a major landmark in its own right, included in UNESCO’s designated World Heritage Site of the Historic Fortified Town of Campeche. Its barrel-shaped chambers and brightly painted courtyard create a dramatic frame for the museum’s excellent collection of Maya artifacts, including Jaina figurines, stelae and jade from Calakmul, as well as skulls exhibiting artificial cranial deformation. The presence of a friendly cat wandering the grounds also didn’t hurt our impression of the site.

Taken as a whole, the Museo Arqueológico was not only the largest museum we visited in Campeche, but also our favorite, rivaling even the monumental and more modern Gran Museo del Mundo Maya in Mérida for the most enjoyable museum of our trip.

Highly subjective personal rating: 8/10
[If you go to only one museum in Campeche, go here.]

All photos by Renée DeVoe Mertz, 26 May 2015.

Yucatán Road Trip: Baluarte de Santiago and Baluarte de la Soledad, Campeche

Campeche’s city center is circumscribed by the remains of a hexagonal wall built by the Spanish between 1686-1704 to defend the colonial seaport from pirate attack (UNESCO). Remarkably, much of the early fortification, including its eight bastions (baluartes), still exists. These bulwarks are now historical attractions in their own right, protected as part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a few have been turned into small museums to showcase other highlights of the region. Baluarte de Santiago, for instance, is now home to the Xmuch’haltun botanical garden of subtropical plants, while Baluarte de la Soledad houses the Museum of Maya Architecture with a small but impactful collection of Maya ceramics and useful information on nearby sites, including Calakmul, Hochob, and Hormiguero.

Highly subjective personal rating: 7/10

Baluarte de Santiago






Baluarte de la Soledad

All photos by Renée DeVoe Mertz, May 26, 2015.

Impressions from the House on the Rock


Whether you’re into automata; infinity rooms; female grotesques; pan-Asian decorative arts; antique guns; circuses; scrimshaw; sea monsters; stained glass; heavily carpeted surfaces; discordant music; winged, semi-nude mannequins; pseudo-Victorian street scenes; or carousels of dolls riding bug-eyed ponies, the House on the Rock has something for you. Dark, convoluted, and often flat-out creepy, the three-part complex located in the forests of southwestern Wisconsin is a call to imagination, a celebration of fakery, and a product of the extreme “eccentricity” of its designer, Alex Jordan, Jr. (1914–1989). Making one’s way past the indiscriminate jumbles of stuff that fill the multitude of tiny nooks and massive, elaborately constructed vignettes can feel like a journey through the mind of a mad man, but one that is as fascinating and surprising as it is exhausting and disturbing.

Jordan opened the original house in 1959 and built the more carnivalesque second and third sections over the next three decades before selling the complex in the late 1980s. The newer owners have continued to expand on the original site, adding an aviation exhibit and, in 2008, opening a welcome center and museum dedicated to Jordan’s life.

I owe particular thanks to Joshua Albers for this post, whose camera and low-light photography skills did laps around mine. Whenever possible, I’ve used his photos from our visit and supplemented the group with my own. All videos are his.

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Bonus Videos:

Yucatán Road Trip: Canton Palace Museum, Mérida

Having spent the morning at Dzibilchaltún and the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, we returned to Mérida’s city center to drop off the car and take a short break at the hotel before walking to our next destination, the Canton Palace Museum. Also known as the Museo Regional de Antropología, the mansion-turned-museum blends early 20th century opulence with archaeological artifacts and, sometimes, more contemporary art. During our visit, the downstairs was closed for installation, but the upstairs hosted an exhibition on Puuc architecture that included relief details from Uxmal and other related sites, as well as quite a few illustrative photographs and explanatory text. Although visually the exhibition could not, of course, compare with seeing the works in situ, the written content was extremely informative, with clearer explanations for the development and significance of Puuc architecture than I have seen elsewhere.

Our visit was brief—around 30 minutes—and I remember being disappointed in the museum on the whole. Our guidebooks had been rather gushing in their praise for its collection, and the reality felt significantly less impressive, especially after having just seen the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya. It also didn’t help that we were nearing the end of a day spent in nearly relentless heat, including a long walk through the congested (if sometimes scenic) sidewalks of Mérida to get there. Looking back, however, I primarily think of the quality of the scholarship and the beauty of the mansion itself. We also appreciated the exhibition more when we went to Uxmal just two days later and were able to mentally place some of the architectural details we had seen in the Canton Palace on the buildings from which they are now missing.

Highly subjective personal rating: 6.5/10 [probably 7/10 or higher when both levels are open]


All photos by Renée DeVoe Mertz, May 21, 2015.