The guide book I read before coming here said that Izamal is a beautiful city as every building in the Historical Center is painted gold, including the Convent. It sounds quite amazing and we are looking forward to seeing it. The drive takes a little over an hour and we pass through three attractive towns on the way. We are learning that the one problem with driving ourselves is that when we reach a town, the road automatically takes us into the central square, and leaves us there. We drive around the square and there are always eight exits (two at each corner) and none of them is ever signposted. We have to ask directions from a local. The other problem we discover is that the locals are always anxious to please and feel that an answer of “I don’t know” is rude. Consequently they just make up something, often sending us in completely the wrong direction, which they consider to be polite, but we find extremely annoying.
Izamal is the “City of the Hills” and is thought to be the oldest Spanish city in Yucatan. Its history is dominated by religious events. We live near San Francisco which is also the City of Hills. There is no comparison. The hills of Izamal are only noticeable if you are riding a bicycle. Izamal is located in the middle of the Peninsula . It was conquered by the Spanish and it was the monks in their eagerness to convert the Indians to Catholicism who gave the city its religious distinction. To this day, the people of Izamal are devoted to the Immaculate Virgin.
True to form the road takes us into the square at the heart of the city, where we realize that the guide book was using a little artistic license with the use of the word “gold”. Every building is painted a very bright sunshine yellow. It is very colourful but gives a completely different effect than the one we had expected, that of a city of gold.
The square is dominated by a Convent that was built from and over one of the Mayan Pyramids. The convent is famous for its murals and its central courtyard, which is second only in size to that of the Vatican. We are lucky enough to arrive as the monks (it’s called a convent but it is full of monks!) are congregating in a small chapel for their mid day service. The chapel is lovely, built on the top of a small hill with large double doors on both sides, open to the surrounding trees. Inside there are painted murals, an altar full of flowers and a huge statue of the Immaculate Virgin. The only jarring note is that all the chairs for the monks are red plastic chairs emblazoned with the Coca Cola logo.
The monks generously invite us to be a part of the service, and offer us our own Coca Cola Chairs. The service is quite rousing with two monks playing guitars and the congregation singing along as the Virgin is wheeled forward from her shrine. We feel a little out of place and quietly leave.