The first three pics show views of streets in the Old Town. It’s vaguely reminiscent of a Spanish town of the time, it seems to me. That’s part of the double-edged sword for me about seeing things in Mexico. It’s like looking at Spain through the wrong end of a telescope. You see the streets, the buildings and the churches and you think, “Well, it looks kind of like Badajoz, but it isn’t.” Indeed, it isn’t. That reality becomes unavoidable especially in the churches. The reflection of the Spanish originals shows the mirror to be somewhat distorting. The image does not strike true. What is it? The proportions? The attention to detail in the finishing work? Subtle differences in the architectural design?
At the risk of seeming harsh, I’d say the difference is in a combination of lack of originality and negligence. The churches in Spain are not imitations, they are themselves and they look it. One may discern influencing elements in the architecture — Arabic elements, usually — but the building sat in front of you is itself and cut from local cloth. In Mexico it’s always a matter of looking at cousins, not brothers. Sometimes the family resemblance is stronger, sometimes weaker. The church in the Old Town of Campeche is a poor reflection of its originals in Spain. For a place that has a UNESCO World Heritage designation, you’d think things would be poshed up a bit to make it look its best. Nothing of the sort. The exterior, nothing terribly impressive to begin with, shows significant deterioration. Such sights leave me feeling ambivalent. Being a nice person, I want to accord the greatest possible credit to the building before me. Having been in Spain multiple times where I admire the ecclesiastical architecture immensely, I’m embarrassed to find myself comparing what stands before me to what I’ve seen in the Old Country. The comparison is perhaps unkind but inevitable. Colonial architecture is derivative, that goes without saying. Derivatives can be true to type or off the mark. It’s luck of the draw with colonial architecture and in my experience things are usually a bit wide of the mark. I took that as a factoid of the day in the Old Town and kept moving.
The streetscapes are very lovely and I think any town in Spain would be proud to have that showing. Obviously the town plan comes directly from the Old Country and holds true to form. The pastel colors of the buildings are the hallmark, of course, and come off to great effect in the sunshine. I’m amused as I walk such streets to notice the architectural details of the buildings. They come from the architectural syntax of Western tradition and get thrown about like balls being tossed between children playing on a beach. One building will take up pedimented windows, another will go for arches, you can never tell from one building to the next what will come, but it all hangs together and looks lovely. It’s a pleasure to walk the streets.
The main square (Zocalo) is lovely, as well, as the fourth pic shows. Spanish main squares are often bare things, all paving stones and precious little greenery with few places to perch your backside. The Zocalo in Campeche is made for lolligagging in the shade. It has a fine gazebo which I’m sure resounds with mariachi music on the weekends. The weekday I visited was low-key, the people sitting around the square were just passing the time. They were of all ages, as well, not just old folks hanging out because they didn’t want to sit in the house. On the weekends there are musical performances and lots of street vendors at work, so I hear, so it’s probably a hive of activity when the work week is done and it’s time to party.
Campeche is a very clean place. It has the look of being well cared for — something that in the States goes into an assessment of a location being “a nice place.” Even if there were a bit of litter on the streets, I’d still call Campeche a nice place. It has wonderful atmosphere in the Old Town and a pleasant modernity on offer in the newer part. The coastal development has been done thoughtfully and well, which makes the seaside experience an urban pleasantness, not a haphazard placement of a jumble of buildings next to the water. For both the old and the new parts I give Campeche two thumbs up.
Given the amount of time, energy and money the city has put into building its tourist interface, it should figure on more people’s bucket list as a worthy destination. Yes, it’s smallish, and yes, it’s probably doable in two days max, but I can easily imagine passing a week or a couple of weeks there to take in the atmosphere and wander taking in the sights. It has everything available you could ask for — good restaurants, good hotels (at reasonable prices), friendly people and lots of architectural eye candy. What’s not to like about that?
So here’s my pitch for Campeche: it’s a winner. If you have a chance to go, don’t miss it.