Santiago de los Caballeros de Merida, Venezuela, is the capital of the municipality of Libertador and the state of Merida, 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.
Merida 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.
Merida is at an altitude of approximately 1,600 meters . The city sits on a plain in the valley of the Chama river, which runs from one end to the other. The backdrop of Merida's skyline is the country's highest summit, Pico Bolivar.
Merida was founded by Juan Rodriguez Suarez on October 9, 1558 in one of the Pamplonian mining expeditions he led. He named the city after his birthplace, Merida. The first settlement of Merida was not the current one but 30 km to the south, in Xamu, where today stands Lagunillas. Nevertheless, Rodriguez Suarez had to move the settlement in November 1559 to nearby El Punto (presently the Zumba area of Merida), because of constant confrontations with the native neighbours. History of
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Rodriguez Suarez's foundation had not been authorized by the New Granadian Authorities, so in 1560 they sent Juan de Maldonado to arrest Juan Rodriguez and regularize the new city. On June 24 Maldonado moved Merida 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, Merida became the capital of the Governorate of Merida, 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.
The city received its name from the founder Juan Rodriguez, who baptized it this way in honor to his natal city, Merida in Extremadura, Spain.However, Juan de Maldonado would rename it . In 1559, he changed the name again, calling it (Saint James of the Knights). Progressively, it became to be adopted the denomination '', form that combined the variants that the city has been designated with until then.
The word Merida 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 etymological origin, because other accepted meaning of the term in Latin was related to the soldiers who were licensed from the army. So Merida 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 ("" and "Emeritus Professor" mean retired professor). As time passes on, this name mutated until becoming '', 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 Meridas is that in both cities there is a tributary of the main river with the name Albarregas. The residents of Merida, Venezuela, are called M, while the inhabitants of Merida, Spain, are , and those of a third Merida in Mexico are referred to as .
Merida has had several famous residents who been distinguished in areas such as humanistic research and essay-writing, the occupation of the most famous Meridenos'': Tulio Febres Cordero, Pedro Rincon Gutierrez, and Mariano Picon Salas. Other distinguished Meridenos are:
Politics and government
Merida is the seat of the state and municipal governments, and is also home to the Governor and the Mayor's offices, the state legislature, and the regional offices of the judicial and electoral branches. Important representatives and governors are also taken to this city to meet at an annual voting session. Moreover, 13 of the 15 prefectures of the Libertador Municipality are located within the city.
Nowadays, although to a lesser extent than the larger urban centers of the country, politics have an important role among the general population, although the most important government positions such as that of the mayor and governor are held by members of the official party, the Fifth Republic Movement. Nevertheless, given the great concentration among students and the importance of the Universidad de Los Andes in local development, the positions of University Director and President of the Student Body of the University of The Andes are of great importance within the local political scene and are currently occupied by people of the opposing party in the first case and the official party in the second, in contrast to the positions of Mayor and Governor. Nevertheless, due to the recent suspension of the elections for President of the University Student Body, the city has seen an intense wave of protests that have left more than a dozen wounded.
In the 2004 Venezuelan recall referendum, the city of Merida voted against the overall trend, as least 60% of voters opposed the continuation of President Hugo Chavez's mandate. By contrast, the majority of the rest of the population of the state of Merida voted in favor of Chavez.
The city is located in the center of the Venezuelan Andes, in a wide plain in the valley of the Chama river, between the Sierra Nevada de Merida to the southeast and the Sierra La Culata to the northwest. The old quarter of the city is on the alluvial plain known as Tatuy.
Merida has four principal rivers, and various smaller streams in the less urbanized parts of the citythese have a significant water flow only in times of heavy precipitation. The most important river is the Chama, followed by the Albarregas, which cross the plain and divide it into two parts: the Banda Occidental (west bank) and the Banda Oriental (east bank). These two rivers run from one end of the city to the other. The other two principal rivers, the Mucujun and the Milla, flow into the Chama and Albarregas. In the lower part of the city is found the La Rosa lake, one of some 200 lakes in the state of Merida.
In the center of the city the terrain, located on a plain, is almost flat.Nonetheless, there is an average incline of 3 to 7 degrees, which causes a difference in altitude between the high and low parts of the city of more than , the average being above sea level at the Plaza Bolivar. However, the areas surrounding the city are rough and uneven, situated in the valleys formed by the Chama and Albarregas rivers and the Sierra Nevada and Sierra de La Culata ranges.
The valley in which the city is located was formed approximately 40 to 60 million years ago with the creation of the Venezuelan Andes and its continuous erosion by the area's water systems. Its soils consist of alluvial sediment and clay. Below the city runs the major tectonic fault in the western part of the country, the Bocono fault, which forms part of the South American Plate.
The vegetation in the interior of the city consists of medium to tall trees, and ferns (Pteridophyte), located mainly near the basin of the Albarregas river. On the outskirts of Merida, one finds non-urbanized areas, where sub-mountainous and seasonal jungle vegetation predominates. On the other hand, vast coniferous forests extend toward the south, where they were planted some years ago. Toward the north and east, one finds cloud forests.
Significant among the local fauna are important populations of certain small and medium-sized birds such as hummingbirds and parrots (Psittacidae), spread particularly to the south of the city.
Despite the fact that the country in general has hot weather and a tropical climate, Merida is more temperate with a mountain climate. This is because of its geographical location, in the Andes mountains, and its high altitude.
Though pollution has caused a rise in temperatures, this has been less, in relative terms, than in other important cities in Venezuela, with readings that vary between 18 C and , with an overall average of . Precipitation is of medium intensity during the rainy season, from April to November.
Venezuela is situated in an inter-tropical zone, so that there is very little temperature variance over the course of a year. The same is true in Merida—the temperatures recorded in August are normally comparable to those measured under comparable conditions in broad daylight in January.
On the other hand, given Merida's location in the interior of the country, far from the maritime coasts and the influence of the ocean, and its high altitude, the temperature variance over the course of a day is relatively high. Between day and night a difference of more than can be observed; this difference sometimes reaches more than . The maximums are reached during the day, and are usually around , but on rare occasions exceed . The lower limit of daytime temperatures tends to be around .
Because of its location on a plateau, in a small valley, covering an area of some 10 to 15 km in length and between 1 and 3 km wide, the city now lacks additional space for urban development. Though its polygonal area covers some 60 km ULA, Alcaldia de Merida, Universidad de Catalunya, RedIALA: Jornadas de estudio previo al Plan especial del Parque Metropolitano de Merida. 2003. Merida, Venezuela. Archivo .pdf., the city occupies a little over 25 km, and the rest consists of less developed zones or areas of uneven terrain, such as mountains or hillsides.
For this reason, the city layout is unorganized, oriented only by the traffic axes constructed in decades past. The layout of the city center or "Old Quarter" is in the Spanish Colonial style, consisting of eight major avenues running East-West and forty streets running North-South, creating blocks of 50 to 100 m per side.
Historically, Merida has been characterized by less pronounced differences between socio-economic classes and for its high quality of life. Recent years, however, owing to the economic situation confronting the country, have seen a significant increase in slums in the hills and outskirts of the city.
The southeastern part of the city, historically the headquarters of the large Haciendas that produced sugar cane, has for several decades undergone major urban development, consisting principally of single-family dwellings, and has grown almost to the point of joining with the city of Ejido, a bedroom community. Ejido currently extends to within less than 2 km of the border of Merida, and the two cities are linked by a large avenue that goes from the neighborhoods of downtown Merida to the outskirts of Ejido. At this point, it turns into a highway, running to the city of El Vigia, thereby uniting Merida's metropolitan area.
Despite the limited space available for development, Merida has the largest proportion of green areas per capita in Venezuela, thanks to its many squares and public parks, the one surrounding the river Albarregas being particularly noteworthy. The School of Architecture Igor Puentes: Proponen red de espacios publicos para mejorar calidad de vida de los meridenos. Universidad de Los Andes. 17/11/2005 Merida, Venezuela. Enlace web. of the University of the Andes puts into practice diverse proposals for creating areas protected from urban development, thereby reducing the impact of population growth on the environment.
There were only two neighborhoods in the city at the beginning of the 20th century. One of them was Casco Central (central quarter), located in the east bank of the plateau; which in turn was divided in various zones, identified according to the name of the local square within. The other neighborhood of the city was by the other side of the Albarregas river, in the west bank. It was known as La Otra Banda ("the other bank"). However, as a result of the Oil Boom, immigration and various other reasons, new neighborhoods appeared as years went by. The first to emerge were those near downtown. Then, due to the lack of real estate and in the search of quieter areas, neighborhoods were created far, at the time, from the city center. Some of these old spurs have now become part of the city. The following are the main neighborhoods of the city.;Belensate: Predominantly a higher-class neighborhood, it contains the largest and most luxurious houses in the city. ;Casco Central: It comprises the historic city center. It is the main commercial, cultural, and urban area, containing most museums, libraries, churches, and retail shopping stores in Merida. ;Chama: It is a residential area for the middle class located in the vicinity of the Chama river. It is the lowest-altitude neighborhood in the city, situated about 200 m lower than downtown. It will be connected to Casco Central via an aerial cableway planned as part of the Merida trolleybus project. ;Humboldt: It is a populated neighborhood to the southwest of the city, with increasing commercial development in recent years. ;La Hechicera: Located at the northern end of the city, it contains the scientific and engineering buildings of the ULA, as well as the zoo and the botanical garden. ;La Parroquia: This is the current name of the village formerly known as La Punta. It shares similarities with the Casco Central, with residential and commercial zones intermingled. It contains the second Bolivar Square in the city, as well as large public high schools and sporting facilities, such as the Metropolitan Stadium and the sport complex Cinco Aguilas Blancas. ;La Pedregosa: It is a long neighborhood located in the valley of La Pedregosa creek. It is mainly a residential zone. Although connected to the city, it is far enough from it that its development has increased in the last decades due to the availability of suitable real estate. ;Los Curos: This is a popular neighborhood, almost exclusively residential, though it houses one of the few industrial zones in the city. ;Pie del Llano: Situated in the middle of the city, it surrounds the airport and local branches of a number of government offices, as well as the city Mayor's office. It is a commercial and residential neighborhood with plenty of public parks.
;Avenida 16/Campo de Oro/Santa Juana: It is a middle class neighborhood located in the geographical center of the city. It borders the Tatuy mesa, which houses a number of car dealers and auto shops and, above all, the largest hospital of the city, the IHULA (Instituto Autonomo Hospital Universitario de los Andes)
Finally, it should be noted that the municipality is divided (for political purposes) into parishes; thirteen of the municipality's fifteen parishes are within the city.
Despite being one of the largest cities in the Venezuelan Andes, Merida 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 Merida 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, Merida'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, Merida'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. Instituto de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales: Merida, Proyeccion de la poblacion por municipios y parroquias, al (30-06) 1990 - 2020. Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela. Enlace web..-->
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. Instituto de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales: Poblacion nacida en el exterior por grupo de edad segun sexo y pais de nacimiento. Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela. Enlace web.
The population of Merida 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 Instituto de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales: Poblacion nacida en el exterior por grupo de edad segun sexo y pais de nacimiento. Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela. Enlace web..
The city of Merida 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 Cristobal (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.
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 Merida, 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 Merida's sugar cane was processed. This refinery was eventually abandoned and has now been converted into a museum. With the construction of Merida 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. Eleazar Santos: Ciudades mas atractivas para invertir. Consejo nacional de promocion de inversiones. 19/07/05 Caracas, Venezuela. Enlace web. Cifras de Paridad de Poder Adquisitivo (PPA). Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas. Corpoandes: Esquema de contenido Dossier de las entidades federales; Merida. Merida, Venezuela. Archivo .pdf.
The city of Merida now stands out at the national level for its low cost of living Eleazar Santos: Ciudades mas atractivas para invertir. Consejo nacional de promocion de inversiones. 19/07/05 Caracas, Venezuela. Enlace web. and its high (relative to cost of living) per capita income of $4,381, ninth among Venezuelan cities. The service sector contributes a large percentage of the state's income. In Merida 82,537 people are economically active, of whom 6.67% are unemployed..
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 Merida and the rest of the country.
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 Perez Alfonso in El Vigia, also serve Merida.The airport was closed down however in 2009 due to the many accidents that occurred because of its difficult position within the andes.
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.
Merida 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 Andres Bello and Urdaneta avenues. With a length of more than 8 km, it runs from the neighborhoods of the central quarter of Merida to the outskirts of Ejido. The other three correspond to Las Americas and Alberto Carnevali avenues; 16 de septiembre and Tulio Febres Cordero avenues; and the corridor of Los Proceres avenue.
Two national highways connect Merida 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 Merida with El Vigia, and in turn, with the Pan-American Highway, thereby giving the city a connection with Colombia and with other important destinations, such as San Cristobal and Maracaibo.
In addition to the national highways, three alternative routes exit the city of Merida. The first, called the Via 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 Jaji and La Azulita; it is also a tourism route, with various lookout points facing Merida 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.
Along with a trolleybus rapid-transit system (still under construction and not fully open), the city relies on a vast system of urban and interurban bus routes which connect the city with its metropolitan area. The conventional bus routes traverse the various avenues of the city and cover a large percentage of the city's area. Merida 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 Merida 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 trolleybus was chosen as the most appropriate means of transport. Construction of the Merida trolleybus system started near the end of the 1990s. The first line was inaugurated on June 18, 2007, with 15 of 34 proposed stations completed. This route serves Ejido and Merida. 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, an aerial cableway (originally planned to be a funicular), is a 3 km long route that will connect the community of Chama to a Merida trolleybus station; construction has yet to begin. Once construction is completed, Merida will be the first city in Latin America with under 500,000 inhabitants to have a rapid-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.
The only regional public transit available in Merida 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 Merida 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 Merida is not projected to be a stop on this system: the nearest stop will be the city of El Vigia, 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 Roman Eduardo Sandia: The Bullfighting Arena of Merida 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 Merida 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.
Merida 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 Merida: 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 Merida presides the mass services. ;Iglesia del Carmen: The oldest religious structure in Merida, Our Lady of Carmen Church stands close to the Plaza Bolivar. 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: Merida's only building in the Gothic style. It stands near the place where an old chapel held the first wooden cross brought to Merida 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 Bolivar Square. It has served as the residence for the Archbishop since 1951. It houses the Archdiocesan Museum.
Parks, squares, and sightseeing
Merida 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 Merida'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. ;Merida 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 Pena: 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 Ninos (Children's City Park): A large children's park, which models the shape of the city on a smaller scale. ;Parque de las Cinco Republicas (Park of the Five Republics): A park that is the home of the Bolivar Column, a monument dedicated to Simon Bolivar. This was the first sculpture constructed to honor Bolivar, in 1842. It was commissioned by the then-governor of the province, Gabriel Picon. It was erected to commemorate the moving of Bolivar's remains to the Panteon Nacional in Caracas, from their previous resting place in the city of Santa Marta, Colombia, where Bolivar had been buried following his death in 1830. The monument consists of a pillar on which sits Bolivar's face in bronze. ;Parque del Ejercito (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. Carla Silvana Cardenas: El Parque La Isla recupera su belleza. Diario Frontera 21/09/2005. Merida, Venezuela. Enlace web. ;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 Meridas (Three Meridas Park): A small park that commemorates the three cities in the world named Merida . It features architectural elements typical of each city. ;Parque Zoologico 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 Mucujun. According to legend, she still laments the death of her fiance Chief Murachi, who died bravely fighting the Spanish conquistadors. This park is located at the north end of Urdaneta avenue. ;Plaza Belen: 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 Bolivar: The past and present main square of Merida, 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 Elias and Jose Antonio Paez. ;Plaza Las Heroinas (Plaza of the Heroines): A plaza constructed to honor five women from Merida 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 Jose 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.
Merida 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. Merida also contains various institutions of higher educations such as universities, university centers, polytechnic institutes, and university colleges, among others.
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 Merida, and about a dozen faculties spread throughout the city.
Two other more recently founded universities are based in Merida: 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, ULA.
Universidad Nacional Abierta, UNA.
Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Fuerzas Armadas, UNEFA.
Santiago Marino Polithecnic Institute, IUPSM.
Colegio Universitario Hotel Escuela de Los Andes Venezolanos, CUHELAV.
Santiago de los Caballeros de Merida Institute, ISCM.
Antonio Jose de Sucre University Institute.
Cristobal Mendoza Technological University 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 Merida and Colegio San Luis are among the largest with several hundred pupils each. These are run by governing bodies Fundacion La Salle and Fundacion Don Bosco, repectively. However, all schools come ultimately under the auspices of The Venezuelan Ministerio de Educacion.
Other educational institutions worth mentioning are the schools dedicated to languages, sport and music. Merida is known as a destination to learn Spanish. Jakera Spanish School [*] is well know and recommended. In 2007 Jakera was voted by the Language industry (STAR awards) as one of the top four Spanish schools worldwide. There are also 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.
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, Merida 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 Simon Bolivar, 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.
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 Merida, 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 Merida houses the second and third oldest bells in the world, the so called Ave Maria bell from the year 909 and San Pedro of 912.
Festivals and local customs
In addition to national holidays and events, several festivals take place and have origins in Merida. 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 Merida, 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 Ano Viejo (Burning of the Past Year), La Pasion Viviente de Cristo (Christ's Living Passion) and La Paradura del Nino (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 Merida have a special relevance and importance given the city's large student population.
Other customs firmly rooted in the Meridan tradition, usually associated with fixed dates, include Patinatas Navidenas 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.
The cuisine of the Merida 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 Merida, Tachira 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."
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 Merida, 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
Merida is the quintessential touristic city in Venezuela, being one of the most sought-after destinations by national and international travelers.
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 Merida becomes the host of the soccer event Copa America.
The main commercial area of Merida 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 Merida's Mercado Principal (Main Market) and the Heladeria 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. Heladeria Coromoto is well-known because it offers the greatest variety of ice cream flavors worldwide, with more than 800 choices709 flavors. Cfr. World Guinness Records, 1991..
For those who like to go shopping and spend the day enjoying stores or food courts, Merida offers Las Tapias or Alto Prado shopping malls, located in Ave. Andres Bello y la Ave. Los Proceres, respectively. There, you may also enjoy watching the latest films. Currently, there are under construction three larger malls on Ave. Las Americas: Rosario Mall, Plaza Mayor, and Rodeo Plaza. There are rumors that Sambil will also open a branch in Merida.
As a city popular with students and tourists, Merida 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 cafes, 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 Merida, as well as concerts of local bands, performing rock and other musical styles.
Many of the night-clubs and discos open till 5 AM or so, with a few of them open until the sun rises next morning. A common practice among the thousands of college students is grab breakfast after partying all night long, and then go to bed.
Media and communication
There are three television stations which broadcast from Merida. 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:
Televisora Andina de Merida, (TAM)
The principal radio stations radio stations of the state also broadcast from Merida. These stations are mostly privately-owned, though in recent years some public community radio stations have emerged.
Some of the best-known newspapers from Merida are:
El Correo de Los Andes
Cambio de Siglo [*]
Diario Pico Bolivar [*]
Merida 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 Aguilas Blancas (Five White Eagles) Sports Complexa 42 000-seat stadium and the current home stadium of the local team, Estudiantes de Merida 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 Merida, dedicated on May 25, 2007 with a friendly match between Venezuela and Honduras, was host to the 2007 Copa America.
The city enjoys the highest quality of life in Venezuela Eleazar Santos: Cities Most Attractive for Investment. National Council for Promotion of Investment. 7/19/05 Caracas, Venezuela. web link.. In the year 2000, thirty-six health centers were located in the metropolitan area of Merida, 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 Autonomo 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 Merida, the Clinical Center, the Merida 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 Merida 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.
Libertador Municipality, Merida
Historia de Merida, Carlos Chalbaud Zerpa, Universidad de Los Andes. 1985, Merida, Venezuela.
Enciclopedia de Venezuela. Edicion de El Nacional. Caracas, Venezuela.
Nuevo atlas practico de Venezuela. Edicion de El Nacional. Caracas, Venezuela.
Enciclopedia Conocer Venezuela. Salvat. Navarra, Espana. ISBN 84-345-4251-XThe Trolleybuses of Merida: description, map, 29 illustrations http://www.tramz.com/ve/me/me.html
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