Mérida, Mérida

Mérida, Mérida

Geobox|Settlement
name = Mérida
native_name =
other_name =
category = City
etymology = Named after Mérida, Spain
official_name = Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida
motto = Non potest civitas abscondi
supra montem posita
nickname = Ciudad de los Caballeros
("Knights' City")


image_caption = Mérida Cathedral




symbol = EscudoMérida.jpg
country = Venezuela
state = Mérida
region =
district =
municipality = Libertador
part =
landmark =
river =
location=
elevation = 1630
prominence =
lat_d = 8| lat_m = 36| lat_s = | lat_NS = N
long_d = 71| long_m = 9| long_s = | long_EW = W
highest =
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lowest =
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lowest_elevation =
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length = | length_orientation =
width = | width_orientation =
area = 25
area_land =
area_water =
area_urban =
area_metro =
population = 204,879 | population_date = 2001
population_urban =
population_metro = 345,489
population_density = 8000
population_density_urban =
population_density_metro =
established = October 9 1558
date=
government =
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government_elevation =
government_lat_d = | government_lat_m = | government_lat_s = | government_lat_NS =
government_long_d = | government_long_m = | government_long_s = | government_long_EW =
mayor = Carlos León
leader =
timezone = Venezuelan Standard Time Zone | utc_offset = -4:30
timezone_DST = | utc_offset_DST =
postal_code = 5101
area_code = 0274
code =
whs_name =
whs_year =
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iucn_category =
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map_caption =
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commons = Mérida (Venezuela)
statistics =
website = http://www.merida5101.com/
footnotes =

Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida, Venezuela, is the capital of the municipality of Libertador and the state of Mérida, and is one of the principal cities of the Venezuelan Andes. It was founded in 1558, forming part of Nueva Granada, but later became part of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, and played an active role in the War of Independence.

Mérida has more than 200,000 inhabitants and a metropolitan area containing some 350,000 people. It is the main center for education and tourism in western Venezuela, the home of the prestigious University of the Andes, and the location of the highest and second longest aerial tramway in the world.

Mérida is at an altitude of approximately 1,600 meters (5,249 ft). The city sits on a plain in the valley of the Chama river, which runs from one end to the other. The backdrop of Mérida's skyline is the country's highest summit, Pico Bolívar.

History

Mérida was founded by Juan Rodríguez Suárez on October 9 1558 in one of the Pamplonian mining expeditions he led. He named the city after his birthplace, Mérida. The first settlement of Mérida was not the current one but 30 km to the south, in Xamú, where today stands Lagunillas. Nevertheless, Rodríguez Suárez had to move the settlement in November 1559 to nearby El Punto (presently the Zumba area of Mérida), because of constant confrontations with the native neighboursEs icon [http://es.viajes.yahoo.com/p-guia_viaje-2218511-merida_historia-i History of Mérida] Yahoo Viajes España] .

Rodríguez Suárez's foundation had not been authorized by the New Granadian Authorities, so in 1560 they sent Juan de Maldonado to arrest Juan Rodríguez and regularize the new city. On June 24 Maldonado moved Mérida to its present location on the plateau and rechristened it as Santiago de los Caballeros. The city then came to be governed by the "corregimiento" of Tunja until 1607, when it became itself a "corregimiento" of the "Audiencia" of Santa Fe.

In 1622, Mérida became the capital of the Governorate of Mérida, whose chief official established his residence there. The city and territory were part of New Granada until 1777, when it was integrated into the Captaincy of Venezuela .

The city was elevated to the status of an episcopal see in 1785. This led to the creation of a seminary, which in 1811 became the University of the Andes.

Etymology

The city received its name from the founder Juan Rodríguez, who baptized it this way in honor to his natal city, Mérida in Extremadura, Spain. However, Juan de Maldonado would rename it as " _es. San Juan de las Nieves". In 1559, he changed the name again, calling it " _es. Santiago de los Caballeros"(Saint James of the Knights). Progressively, it became to be adopted the denomination " _es. Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida", form that combined the variants that the city has been designated with until then.

The word Mérida comes from the term "emerita", Latin voice whose meaning is "pertaining to one who has merit" and emeritus, which is the city name's real ethymologic origin, because other acception of the term in Latin was related with the soldiers who were licensed from the army. So Mérida City, present capital of the Autonomous Community of Extremadura, has this origin: the name of Emerita Augusta means that it was a city founded in Augustus's times with army licensed soldiers, who settled in an existing town in exchange for giving the category of roman citizens to the old inhabitants. Besides, in Spanish and also in English, the word emeritus means retired (" _es. Profesor Emérito" and "Emeritus Professor" mean retired professor). As time passes on, this name mutated until becoming " _es. Mérida", losing the initial "E" and changing the "t" for a "d", although other derivations as "meritory" or "em"eritus had maintained a similar form to the Latin word. And other common feature between the Spanish and the Venezuelan Méridas is that in both cities there is a tributary of the main river with the name Albarregas. The residents of Mérida, Venezuela, are called "M _es. erideños", while the inhabitants of Mérida, Spain, are " _es. Emeritenses", and those of a third Mérida in Mexico are referred to as " _es. Meridanos".

Famous residents

Mérida has had several famous residents who been distinguished in areas such as humanistic research and essay-writing, the occupation of the most famous "Merideños": Tulio Febres Cordero, Pedro Rincón Gutiérrez, and Mariano Picón Salas. Other distinguished Merideños are:

Despite being one of the largest cities in the Venezuelan Andes, Mérida has traditionally been less populated in comparison to other more rapidly growing cities in the country. At the beginning of the 19th century, the city only had about 5,000 inhabitants. The demographic growth saw no major changes until the last three decades of the 20th century, when the population tripled, from 74,000 (according to the 1971 census) to the current estimate of 214,000. The increase in number of inhabitants was mainly due to a recent exodus of farmers moving to the urban centers, a phenomenon seen all over the country. Moreover, the prestige of the University of the Andes transformed Mérida in one of the leading educational centers nationwide. As a result, the city houses an important student population from all over the country.

According to the last census, performed in 2001, Mérida's population was of 204,879 inhabitants. This value does not include the population omitted by the survey, which was estimated to be about 6% nationwide. However, Mérida's metropolitan (greater) area, which includes the neighboring cities of Tabay and Ejido, houses over 300,000 inhabitants.

In 2006, assuming the usual natural level of growth in the area (between 2.1% and 3% annually), the population reached 230,000 inhabitants, while the metropolitan area would have reached 350,000, thanks to the high growth rate in the city of Ejido, which is one of the largest of the Andes area. Other estimates indicate that the actual population of the city has now reached about 250,000 inhabitants and that the metropolitan area has 350,000 inhabitants. [Es icon Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales: "Mérida, Proyección de la población por municipios y parroquias, al (30-06) 1990 - 2020". Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela. [http://iies.faces.ula.ve/Proyecciones_de_Poblacion/Mérida.htm Enlace web] .] .

The population of Mérida is relatively homogeneous. There is, however, a large community of foreigners, resulting from the inter- and intra-continental migratory patterns of past eras. Among these there are significant groups of Italians, Portuguese, and Colombians. According to the 1990 census, a little over 4% of the population–some 7,406 inhabitants–is of foreign origin [Es icon Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales: "Población nacida en el exterior por grupo de edad según sexo y país de nacimiento". Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela. [http://iies.faces.ula.ve/censo90/Merida/Generales/meri_gen_8_13.htm Enlace web] .] .

Economy

The city of Mérida has one of the lowest poverty indexes in Venezuela. According to the 2001 census, 18.09% of the population lives in poverty; this figure is beaten only by San Cristóbal (17.05%) and the municipalities of Chacao (8.69%), Baruta (11.22%) and San Antonio de Los Altos (6.13%) in the state of Miranda. [Es icon INE [http://www.ine.gov.ve/secciones/menuprincipal.asp?nedo=14&nvalor=4_6&seccion=4] ]

The city's economy has been evolving and transforming since the beginning of the 20th century. Traditionally, agriculture formed the most significant part of economic activity in Mérida, which was the distribution center for agricultural goods in the state. Furthermore, large sugar cane "haciendas" were located nearby; their income led to the construction of a central sugar refinery in which all of Mérida's sugar cane was processed. This refinery was eventually abandoned and has now been converted into a museum. With the construction of Mérida Cable Car, the trans-Andes highway, and the city's airport, the city's economy evolved, with the tertiary services sector—especially tourism—displacing the primary agricultural sector.

Tourism, dubbed the "green industry", is the principal source of income in the city, and one of the most flourishing industries. Touristic activity benefits from the potential offered by the Andes mountains surrounding the city, and from the city's own parks, museums, and plazas, among other features. In addition, in recent years, owing to the creation of the only free cultural, scientific, and technological zone in the country, the city has begun to develop in the field of technology, thanks also to the support of the University in this matter.

The city of Mérida now stands out at the national level for its low cost of living [Es icon Eleazar Santos: "Ciudades más atractivas para invertir". Consejo nacional de promoción de inversiones. 19/07/05 Caracas, Venezuela. [http://www.conapri.org/investvenezuela/main.asp?id=1384&sec=special_report Enlace web] .] and its high (relative to cost of living) per capita income of $4,381, ninth among Venezuelan cities [Es icon "Cifras de Paridad de Poder Adquisitivo (PPA)". Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas.] . The service sector contributes a large percentage of the state's income. In Mérida 82,537 people are economically active, of whom 6.67% are unemployed. [Es icon Corpoandes: "Esquema de contenido Dossier de las entidades federales; Mérida". Mérida, Venezuela. [http://www.funtha.gov.ve/fundacite2005b/download/dossiermerida.pdf Archivo .pdf] .] .

Transportation

During the colonial era and long after independence, the city was isolated from other parts of the country because of the lack of transportation routes to the outside world. Midway through the 19th century, the first highway was built, linking the city with the rest of the country, thereby facilitating access and vehicular traffic. After this point other routes were planned, but lack of maintenance and the nature of the terrain have caused significant interruptions in land traffic between Mérida and the rest of the country.

Airport

The city has one national airport, Alberto Carnevalli Airport, which is embedded in the center of the city, and offers connections to the principal cities of the western Venezuela, such as Maracaibo and Caracas. Furthermore, this airport is one of the most active in the country, with more than 20 daily flights to and from Caracas alone. Other nearby airports, such as Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso in El Vigía, also serve Mérida.

The airport was built in 1956, on the former grounds of a slaughterhouse. Commercial air service is currently provided by two airlines. There is also an area for private aviation, which receives various types of private flights as well as air ambulance flights, and the delivery of parcels and other valuables.

Road network

Mérida has four large internal roadways, which run from one end of the city to the other, and five smaller roadways. The largest is the combination of the "Andrés Bello" and "Urdaneta" avenues. With a length of more than 8 km, it runs from the neighborhoods of the central quarter of Mérida to the outskirts of Ejido. The other three correspond to "Las Américas" and "Alberto Carnevali" avenues; "16 de septiembre" and "Tulio Febres Cordero" avenues; and the corridor of "Los Próceres" avenue.

Two national highways connect Mérida with other cities in Venezuela. The first is "Troncal 7" or the Trans-Andes Highway, which runs to the city of Valera. This highway crosses the Andes by way of the valley of the Chama River, and, arriving at the region of Apartaderos, is crossed by "Local 1". Finally, following the course of the Santo Domingo River, it arrives at the city of Barinas. The other national highway is the so-called "Carretera La Variante". Upon arriving at the Estanques region it becomes "Local 8" or "Autopista Rafael Caldera". "La Variante" connects Mérida with El Vigía, and in turn, with the Pan-American Highway, thereby giving the city a connection with Colombia and with other impotant destinations, such as San Cristóbal and Maracaibo.

In addition to the national highways, three alternative routes exit the city of Mérida. The first, called the "Vía del Valle" (Valley Road) links the city with the north, to various communities in the valley of the Culata, in the municipality of Santos Marquina. The second is an alternative route to the city of Ejido and other communities such as Jají and La Azulita; it is also a tourism route, with various lookout points facing Mérida in its initial section. A third minor route, used exclusively by rural vehicles, connects the city with the community of Los Nevados and with the Sierra Nevada National Park.

Public transport

The city relies on a vast system of urban and interurban bus routes which connect the city with its metropolitan area. The routes traverse the various avenues of the city and cover a large percentage of the city's area. Mérida has one of Venezuela's best public transit systems; nevertheless, the system has become overwhelmed by increasing demand, and may be beginning to collapse. Among the existing routes, the route from the center of the city of Ejido to the center of the city of Mérida stands out, with a volume of thousands of passengers daily.

The bus routes are serviced by private companies, the majority of which are cooperatives or driver's associations, following the private model practiced in most of the cities in Venezuela. However, the prices charged are regulated by the city and supervised by the municipal organization for metropolitan transport. As is the practice throughout the country, the public transport system has special fares for senior citizens, and a student pass providing some of the lowest costs in the country.

After years of study, the construction of a non-polluting mass transit system was proposed; the trolley bus was chosen as the most appropriate means of transport. Construction of the Trolebús de Mérida started near the end of the 1990s. The first line was inaugurated on June 18, 2007, with 14 of 33 proposed stations completed. This route serves Ejido and Mérida. The second line is in the planning stages and is expected to be 12 km long with 3 common stations alongside or crossing route 1. Route 3, the funicular route, is a 3 km long route that will connect the community of Chama to a Mérida trolleybus station. Once construction is completed, Mérida will be the first city in Latin America with under 500,000 inhabitants to have a mass transit system. The existing bus lines will be reorganized into 47 or so feeder routes, in order to provide better public transit to less serviced areas.

Regional transport

The only regional public transit available in Mérida is by bus. These depart from the city bus station. In addition, there are other private terminals from which private lines depart. From the central station one can take buses to destinations within the state, the region, and the rest of the country. Some of the most heavily used routes in the country start from this station, in particular, those that link Mérida with the city of Caracas. Though Venezuela is undertaking the construction of a national railway system, the IAFE, in order to link together the country, the city of Mérida is not projected to be a stop on this system: the nearest stop will be the city of El Vigía, some 60 km away.

Points of interest

Merida contains numerous historical squares, colonial houses, churches, and government buildings that make up most of its sightseeing spots. Moreover, the educational development of the city due, for the most part, to its university (ULA) has contributed to the creation of museums, libraries, and centers for scientific research, such as the Center for Astronomy Research (CIDA), located a few kilometers from the city in the mountains near Apartaderos.

Monuments, public buildings, and historic places

;House of Former Governors: This colonial-style villa, located in the central quarter, was the official residence of the state governors.;Rectorate's Building: Seat of the University's rectorate and Aula Magna.;Government Palace: The government building, regional executive branch.;Plaza Monumental Román Eduardo Sandia: The Bullfighting Arena of Mérida was built in 1967. It has a capacity of 16,000 people and it is frequently used for cultural activities, besides serving its original purpose of bullfighting arena during the Sun Fairs.;Cable Car: The Mérida Cable Car is one of the main touristic spots. In its trajectory, it ascends from the central quarter to the Sierra Nevada. The cable car was completed in 1958. It has now been closed.

Religious buildings

Mérida has about two dozen religious buildings dedicated to Christianity, the most important of which are Catholic churches and chapels, since it is the religion with most number of followers in Venezuela. ;Cathedral of Mérida: The city's Minor Basilica, built in Baroque style, similar to the Cathedral of Toledo, Spain. It is the main Catholic building in the city, where the Archbishop of Mérida presides the mass services.;Iglesia del Carmen: The oldest religious structure in Mérida, Our Lady of Carmen Church stands close to the Plaza Bolívar. Visitors marvel at its colonial architecture and its historical significance - the church is a seat of the Carmelite Brotherhood. It served as cathedral of the city between 1812 and 1866, before the current one was built. ;Iglesia de la Tercera;Iglesia del Llano: Mérida's only building in the Gothic style. It stands near the place where an old chapel held the first wooden cross brought to Mérida by the Spaniards.;Iglesia de Milla: This is one of the oldest churches in the city, originally built in the 18th century and rebuilt in 1907 after an earthquake. It is located in front of the square with the same name. ;Archbishop's Palace: A Baroque palace located in front of Bolívar Square. It has served as the residence for the Archbishop since 1951. It houses the Archdiocesan Museum.

Parks, squares, and sightseeing

Mérida is famous nationwide for its great number of parks and squares, providing its inhabitants with access to nature. There are, at least, a dozen squares and two dozen parks, some of which are described below.

;Boulevard de los Pintores (Painters' Boulevard): On this street painters congregate in order to create, exhibit, and sell their works. ;Aquarium Garden: This aquarium exhibits both fresh and salt water fish. It also has collections relating to Mérida's rural past.;Beethoven Park: Located in front of the Museum of Modern Art in the northern area of the city, this pretty park has a clock on the ground, whose numbers are flowerpots, and large mechanical carillon clock with wooden elves that play melodies from the famous German composer. ;Mérida Botanical Garden: This was the first botanical garden in the city. It is located in the extreme north of the city and has about 40 hectares under cultivation. ;Parque Domingo Peña: Also called "Paseo de la Feria" or "Parque de los Conquistadores", consists of an avenue with a lookout point facing the Sierra Nevada. Student celebrations and get-togethers often take place here. ;Parque Metropolitano Albarregas: This park is the largest in the city, 22 km long and 612 hectares in area. It is located on the bank of the Albarregas River, and contains play areas for children and a sculpture museum. ;Parque Ciudad de los Niños (Children's City Park): A large children's park, which models the shape of the city on a smaller scale. ;Parque de las Cinco Repúblicas (Park of the Five Republics): A park that is the home of the "Bolívar Column", a monument dedicated to Simón Bolívar. This was the first sculpture constructed to honor Bolívar, in 1842. It was commissioned by the then-governor of the province, Gabriel Picón. It was erected to commemorate the moving of Bolívar's remains to the Panteón Nacional in Caracas, from their previous resting place in the city of Santa Marta, Colombia, where Bolívar had been buried following his death in 1830. The monument consists of a pillar on which sits Bolívar's face in bronze. ;Parque del Ejército (Park of the Army): A small park, located in the south of the city, commemorating Venezuela's army. It has green areas, a fountain, and models of military tanks. ;Parque La Isla (Island Park): Situated in the former location of a coffee plantation of the same name, the park was built in 1960 partly as an underwater park, and is 3.5 hectares in area. Its infrastructure is reminiscent to that of an island, offering kids play grounds, trails, and athletic courts. The park houses the largest convention center in the city, as well as the headquarters of Corpoandes (a government-run corporation that promotes development in the Andes region), facilities for cultivating orchids, and a museum dedicated to beekeeping. ; Parque Las tres Méridas (Three Méridas Park): A small park that commemorates the three cities in the world named Mérida (in Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela). It features architectural elements typical of each city. ;Parque Zoológico los Chorros de Milla: A small zoo situated in the extreme north of the city where the Milla waterfalls once flowed, it contains species indigenous to Venezuela and the Andes region.;Parque la Marina (Park of the Navy): Located in Belensate, it has a large water pool surrounding a submarine fin, an underwater clock, and a children's play area in the shape of a boat. ;Parque Tibisay: This park is dedicated to Tibisay, princess of the original dwellers of the region, the tribe Mucujún. According to legend, she still laments the death of her fiancé Chief Murachí, who died bravely fighting the Spanish conquistadors. This park is located at the north end of Urdaneta avenue. ;Plaza Belén: A small plaza, located to the northeast of the city center, in a neighbourhood of the same name. Its design, like that of most of the other plazas described here, follows the prototypical Spanish colonial style. ;Plaza Bolívar: The past and present main square of Mérida, surrounded by the most important public and historical buildings of the city. ;Plaza Glorias Patrias: Consists of twin plazas constructed in honor of the independence leaders Vicente Campo Elías and José Antonio Páez. ;Plaza Las Heroínas (Plaza of the Heroines): A plaza constructed to honor five women from Mérida who fought for independence. It is surrounded by various markets and artisans shops, and the first Cable Car station.;Plaza de Milla: The actual name of this square is "Plaza Sucre". It is located in front the "Iglesia de Milla" and near the army headquarters, northeast of the city center. It is dedicated to the independence hero Antonio José de Sucre, and it is frequently visited by locals and tourists alike, due to its convenient location amongst hotels, pensions, restaurants, stores, and ice cream parlors.

Education

Mérida is a student city with a large percentage of its population found in classrooms, especially in the university area, where 20-30% of the population consists of students, and has a 0% illiteracy rate. It is the home of the University of the Andes, one of the most respected universities in the country, and the second to oldest. Mérida also contains various institutions of higher educations such as universities, university centers, polytechnic institutes, and university colleges, among others.

Universities

The University of the Andes, the most important in the city, was established in 1785, and offers undergraduate programs in art, sciences, literature, and humanities, long and short programs, as well as courses, degrees, post-graduate programs, specializations, diplomas, etc., bringing together more than 40,000 students and 6,000 professors. The university operates two campuses in Mérida, and about a dozen faculties spread throughout the city.

Two other more recently founded universities are based in Mérida: the Universidad Nacional Abierta (UNA), which offers undergraduate distance-learning courses; and, from 2006, the UNEFA, which is a military university specializing in Engineering for undergraduates. The main university centers to be found in the city are given below:

* University of the Andes, [http://www.ula.ve/ ULA] .
* Universidad Nacional Abierta, [http://www.una.edu.ve/ UNA] .
* Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Fuerzas Armadas, UNEFA.
* Santiago Mariño Polithecnic Institute, [http://www.iupsm.edu.ve/ IUPSM] .
* Colegio Universitario Hotel Escuela de Los Andes Venezolanos, [http://www.hotelescuela.edu.ve/ CUHELAV] .
* Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida Institute, [http://www.isantiagodeloscaballeros.net ISCM] .
* Antonio José de Sucre Universitary Institute.
* Cristóbal Mendoza Technological Universitary Institute.
* La Frontera Technological Institute, IUFRONT.

;Primary and Secondary Education There are many institutions dedicated to primary and secondary education, most of which are public, under the control of the national or regional governments. Of particular note is the "Liceo Libertador". The largest education centers in the city can be found among the many private Catholic schools. "Colegio La Salle de Mérida" and "Colegio San Luis" are among the largest with several hundred pupils each. These are run by governing bodies Fundación La Salle and Fundación Don Bosco, repectively. However, all schools come ultimately under the auspices of The Venezuelan Ministry of Education.

Other educational institutions worth mentioning are the schools dedicated to languages, sport and music. There are important conservatories, orchestras and choirs based in the city. Most are linked to the universities and specialize in many kinds of instruments, as well as lyrical interpretation and the deveopment of the singing voice. Amongst the language schools, of predominance are those that teach English, though French and Italian schools can also be found.

Libraries

The greatest network of libraries is that of the University of the Andes. Each school has a specialized library, as well as the multidisciplinary libraries located in La Hechicera, the sports division, the administrative division, and a number of other smaller libraries, adding up to more than a dozen under the direction of Serbiula. Moreover, ULA owns the largest digital archive of the country, available to the public for research and education.

Besides the university libraries, Mérida has the "Biblioteca Bolivariana" (Bolivarian Library), which is also an area of exhibits and historical displays, a branch of the National Library of Venezuela, and the public library Simón Bolívar, subsidized by the government. Other public and private institutions such as schools, churches, and language institutes have their own minor libraries to be used by their members.

Additionally, land originally set aside for a metropolitan library in 2006 was reallocated for the use of UNEFA, and a new site for the proposed library has yet to be granted.

Culture

The city's culture closely resembles that of "Andean Folklore" and is in fact the main, if not defining, example of this folklore. Inhabitants of Mérida, with deep connections to their culture, are characterized by their well-preserved traditions and slow, unhurried way of life. The city itself can be recognized by its many well-preserved colonial parks and buildings, in addition to its famous social scene, the local art and craftwork, and the unique regional cuisine.

Museums, cultural centers, and theaters

Not many know that the Archdiocesan Museum of Mérida houses the second and third oldest bells in the world, the so called "Ave María" bell from the year 909 and "San Pedro" of 912 [Es icon Origenes del Museo Arquidiosesano [http://www.arquidiocesisdemerida.org.ve/Museo-Origenes.asp] ] .

Festivals and local customs

In addition to national holidays and events, several festivals take pace and have origins in Mérida. Most are religious celebrations, and a few - such as the city's famous "Feria del Sol" or "Sun Fair" that takes place in the beginning of February - are of an international scale.

For Mérida, the most important and famous religious traditions are those celebrated by the city's Christian devotees during Christmas and Holy Week. These festivities include "La Quema del Año Viejo" (Burning of the Past Year), "La Pasión Viviente de Cristo" (Christ's Living Passion) and "La Paradura del Niño" (Christ Child's Standing) celebrated with prayers, song, fireworks, wine and cake.

Another of the more popular local customs (those without official government sanction) are the "Caravanas Estudiantiles", student processionals organized by and for high school or university graduates upon earning their degree. In recent years, this tradition has been extended to include younger students who have completed their primary or elementary education. Such celebrations usually occur during the first days of June for high school graduates, and throughout nearly the entire year for college graduates. Similar festivities can be found in other parts of the country, but the "Caravanas" of Mérida have a special relevance and importance given the city's large student population.

Other customs firmly rooted in the Méridan tradition, usually associated with fixed dates, include "Patinatas Navideñas" or "Christmas skating," which occurs in the city streets throughout the month of December; the "Fiesta de las Velas" in December 7 when in the evening all the electricity is turned off and some 18,000 candles are lit; the "Fiesta de San Benito" between January 12 and 31 celebrated with a drummers processions and street dancing; or the "Vasallos de la Candelaria", another typical festivity with children and street dancing.

Cuisine

The cuisine of the Mérida region differs notably from that of the rest of the nation. Among the most notbale differences is the "arepa andina" (Andean Arepa), a variant of the traditional Venezuelan arepa made from a base of wheat flour instead of the more common corn. This difference in ingredients is due primarily to the fact that the Andean region was one of the few places in the country where wheat historically has been harvested. Another notable dish is the "pizca andina", common to Mérida, Táchira and the Colombian Andes, a soup with a base of potato, milk, long onion, and parsely. Other important dishes are prepared with a base of trout, the only fish found in the region.

The city's typical brightened sweets, made from a base of milk and other ingredients, are also notable. There is a historical tradition of such sweets, which are said to originate in the convents where they were prepared in the 19th century. Also, one can find "alfajores", "aliados", and "almojabanas". Popular drinks include corn liquor, mistella, and "donkey's milk", which is known as "Andean punch."

Music

The traditional music of the city is marked by waltz rhythms. It also includes regional or national rhythms, such as "pasillos," a type of merengue and "bambucos." The music of Mérida, like its people, is recognizable by the laid back rhythms. The use of the violin is almost mandatory in the music style. Additionally, the city is commonly the birthplace of many rock and punk bands, among other genres.

Entertainment and tourism

Mérida is the quintessential touristic city in Venezuela, being one of the most sought-after destinations by national and international travelers.

Hotels

Lodging accommodations can be found to fit all budgets, including pensions and apartments for tourists with basic amenities. At least half of the hotels are located within the city, which is about 35% of the total number state-wide. All in all, there are about 2,650 beds available. Moreover, there will be three large five-star hotels added before 2007, when Mérida becomes the host of the soccer event Copa América.

hops

The main commercial area of Mérida lies within the historic downtown. However, all kinds of services can be found in the suburbs. Two notable destinations by locals and tourists alike are Mérida's "Mercado Principal" (Main Market) and the "Heladería Coromoto" (Coromoto Ice cream Parlor). The Mercado Principal is famous for its variety of folk art, gastronomy, produce, groceries, and other local and regional goods. Heladería Coromoto is well-known because it offers the greatest variety of ice cream flavors world-wide, with more than 800 choices709 flavors. Cfr. "World Guinness Records", 1991.] .

hopping malls

For those who like to go shopping and spend the day enjoying stores or food courts, Mérida offers Las Tapias or Alto Prado shopping malls, located in Ave. Andrés Bello y la Ave. Los Próceres, respectively. There, you may also enjoy watching the latest films. Currently, there are under construction three larger malls on Ave. Las Américas: Rosario Mall, Plaza Mayor, and Rodeo Plaza. There are rumors that Sambil will also open a branch in Mérida.

Nightlife

As a city popular with students and tourists, Mérida enjoys a broad network of places open at night for entertainment of a public with varied tastes, composed principally of clubs and bars. There are also various cafés, restaurants, and movie theaters. Furthermore, a number of cultural and popular events constantly take place in these locations. Notable among these events are the concerts of the "Symphonic Orchestra of Mérida", as well as concerts of local bands, performing rock and other musical styles.

Media and communication

Television

There are three television stations which broadcast from Mérida. Two of these are general-interest stations, airing programs including news, entertainment, and culture. The third is an institutional and educational channel and belongs to the Universidad de Los Andes.

The stations are:
* OMC Televisión
* Televisora Andina de Mérida, (TAM)
* ULATV

Radio

The principal radio stations radio stations of the state also broadcast from Mérida. These stations are mostly privately-owned, though in recent years some public community radio stations have emerged.

Press

Some of the best-known newspapers from Mérida are:
* El Correo de Los Andes
* Cambio de Siglo [http://www.cambiodesiglo.net]
* Frontera [http://www.diariofrontera.com]
* Diario Pico Bolívar [http://www.picobolivar.com.ve]
* Cultura Tatuy

ports

Mérida has a strong athletic infrastructure; noteworthy among others is the Guillermo Soto Rosa Stadium, an important soccer facility and the old headquarters of the local soccer team. During the last month of 2005, the city was host to the 2005 Andean National Games, an event for which numerous athletic facilities were built, including the Cinco Águilas Blancas (Five White Eagles) Sports Complex--a 42 000-seat stadium and the current home stadium of the local team, Estudiantes de Mérida F. C.. Soccer is the most popular and widely-supported sport, but given the city's location, a variety of extreme sports are also practiced as well.

In addition to the aforementioned soccer, the current athletic infrastructure also supports a wide array of other traditional sports, including tennis, basketball, baseball, and Venezuelan sports such as bolas criollas.

The Metropolitan Stadium of Mérida, dedicated on May 25 2007 with a friendly match between Venezuela and Honduras, was host to the 2007 Copa América.

Health care

The city enjoys the highest quality of life in Venezuela [Es icon Eleazar Santos: "Cities Most Attractive for Investment". National Council for Promotion of Investment. 7/19/05 Caracas, Venezuela. [http://www.conapri.org/investvenezuela/main.asp?id=1384&sec=special_report web link] .] . In the year 2000, thirty-six health centers were located in the metropolitan area of Mérida, as follows: one type I hospital, one type III hospital, and one type IV hospital, in the city proper, plus 15 urban clinics, four of type III and 11 of type I. The area also has 18 rural clinics, 13 of type II and 5 of type I.

As in other respects, the Universidad de Los Andes and its buildings are closely tied to the city; the health care infrastructure is comprised largely of medical centers belonging to the former, in addition to private health centers. Notable among the public hospitals that offer free services is the "Instituto Autónomo Hospital Universitario de Los Andes" (IHULA), the largest in the region, as well as two smaller hospitals and a chapter of the Venezuelan Red Cross. The larger private hospitals (commonly referred to as "clinics") are the Clinical Hospital of Mérida, the Clinical Center, the Mérida Clinic, and the Albarregas Clinic. There are also another dozen smaller clinics.

In spite of the precarious public health situation in the rest of the country, the city of Mérida has been affected the least, thanks to IHULA, for which the loss of patients to private health centers has been less extreme than in other Venezuelan municipalities.

ee also

* Mérida (state)
* Libertador Municipality, Mérida

References

* "Historia de Mérida", Carlos Chalbaud Zerpa, Universidad de Los Andes. 1985, Mérida, Venezuela.
* "Enciclopedia de Venezuela". Edición de El Nacional. Caracas, Venezuela.
* "Nuevo atlas práctico de Venezuela". Edición de El Nacional. Caracas, Venezuela.
* Enciclopedia "Conocer Venezuela". Salvat. Navarra, España. ISBN 84-345-4251-X

Notes


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