On our travel around the Yucatan Peninsula we were told that we must stop by Izamal – apparently we ‘won’t have seen a town like it’. And my gosh were they right ! Everywhere you turned, the buildings were painted yellow. Not a light lemony yellow, but a rich ochre yellow that seemed to reflect the incredible heat of this town. Row after row of cobbled streets were lined with charming, flat roofed buildings all painted in the same shade, with white framed windows and doorways.
The first question was of course “why?!”, but it seems that no-one truly knows. There are a few theories, with the most common one relating to the Mayan history of the town. Izamal was once a Mayan town, before the Spaniards colonized it, knocking down the architecture and building their own on the same site – even the impressive Monastery, with the 2nd largest atrium in the world, is built upon the grounds of a Mayan pyramid.
Along with the Spanish architecture came the introduction to Christianity, however a sense of the old faith was maintained with a subte honour to the Mayan sun deity Kinich Kakmo by painting his sun colour on their homes as a way to ensure good luck and fortune.
In 1993 Pope John Paul II was scheduled to visit the Monastery of Izamal and the town decided to pull together and make the town presentable from all angles. So it was decided that the whole town would be repainted in the same shade of yellow to give it a distinct aesthetic. With a similar shade of yellow on the Vatican flag, it seemed an easy solution to honour both religions.
But we have also heard a rumour that it was done to deter mosquitos! Now, I dislike mosquitos as much as the next person, possibly even more as they seem to love me so much, but it seems like quite a drastic action to keep away those little flying vampires.
Izamal today is known as the “City of Three Cultures” in reference to the architectural and cultural fusion of the pre-Columbian, Colonial and Modern appearances that can be seen throughout and define the city. It was also awarded as one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” in 2002 for being a town that offered the combination of natural beauty, cultural richness and historical significance. It is lucky that I have no say in this list, as I would be putting nearly every Mexican town that I have visited on there!
After strolling around the colourful streets, I would highly recommend sitting in one of the many cafes surrounding the main square. Life here in Izamal is leisurely and peaceful (it is too hot to be rushing about), so take it all in over an iced drink and continue to debate why you think this town is painted such a dashing shade of yellow.
Want to add a touch of Izmal yellow into your home?