Walking the wall and visiting the Bastions…
I visited Campeche about a month into my first trip travelling. Just like in Tulum, I was still travelling solo back then. Although Campeche was where Hannah and I first met, so it will always be remembered as a bit of a special place.
As I said above, Campeche is a bit of a colonial Disneyland. A large part of the original city wall still stands and forms an enclave of perfectly restored pastel buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. There is a lot to see in the walled centre, including the fortified ramparts of the original city as well as well-preserved mansions. The only flaw is that it has been so obviously restored it lacks the lived-in feel that Merida had, making you wonder if it is actually a real city or just a toy town.
Campeche’s Plaza Principal…
The first thing I did was walk down to the central square, Plaza Principal, not far from my hostel which was within the old city limits, to check out the cathedral and the other sites. The plaza itself was beautiful, much like the rest of the city. Starting its life as a military camp all those years ago, now the plaza is centred around a bell-époque rotunda with wide footpaths shaded by broad carob trees. I found a bench in the shade and enjoyed the sights.
The most visually intimidating building off the plaza is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, which was a real pain to type correctly. The Cathedral (much easier) dominates the east side of the plaza and was my first sight as I came from the east. Similar to Merida, this cathedral has two towers at the front, and a large, broad entrance. Unfortunately, the doors were shut when I walked by, and I didn’t have the confidence to open them for a look at the interior.
The other building on the plaza worth a visit is the Centro Cultural Casa Número 6. A pre-revolution mansion, now a museum of sorts that provides an insight into how the members of high society lived. Now if I can make sense of my hastily written notes, the tiles are the original ones, all the way from Marseille. The building itself has those typical high vaulted ceilings, similar to other colonial buildings I’ve seen. Beautiful Cuban furniture is on display in the front room of the house.
The master bedroom always faced the street with the aristocracy typically making use of hammocks in the summer periods, before packing them away for winter. In fact, you can still see the pegs used to hang them up. Overall, or so it said on the information plaque, the house is a fine example of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, not that I would have a clue, but it was very beautiful and interesting to see.
After a particular spectacular pirate attack on 1663, the people of Campeche decided it would be a good idea to construct a series of protective walls around their city. Now some of those walls still stand, connecting some of the bastions that would have defended the city. In some places, you can walk along the walls and all of the bastions contain a museum or something of interest.
The first one I visited is known as the bonnet. Built in 1690, It was the third bastion built and also the largest, armed with 13 cannons it served to support the gate to the sea.Now it holds an interesting museum that provides an overview of the Mayan sites in Campeche state and goes into some detail on the different architectural styles that were used. The museum is made up of 5 halls that are filled with stelae from various different sites, well worth the visit. As is the bastion itself, which you can climb to the top, giving you a great view of the sea and the cathedral looming over the other buildings.
The next bastion, de San Carlos, was also a museum dedicated to the history of the city and it’s dealing with pirates. They had some nice displays and like the previous one you could climb to the top and see all the cannons displayed. Unfortunately, this museum didn’t have the same love of English translations for the information cards that the previous one did, so It did limit how much I could take away from it.
It was after my visit to the bastions that I met Hannah. That night as we were walking through the city we came across some kind of outdoor movie going on at the main plaza. They had covered the arches in the library, the big yellow building, and were projecting an animated history of Campeche on the walls. We sat down and watched it as it went from jungle animals and natives to Spanish fighting pirates and celebrating Mexican culture with things like the day of the dead. It was a nice treat to stumble upon by accident.
Campeche is a wonderful Colonial city, with some stunning architecture and is well worth a visit on your backpacking trail.