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History of Valladolid, Mexico

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

The popular colonial and picturesque city of Valladolid is rich in history and full of culture and traditions. This Pueblo Magico “Magic Town”, in Mexico’s state of Yucatan, was once the location of rebellions and several battles between the native residents, and the Spanish conquerors. Find out more about Valladolid’s history, and why so many people enjoy visiting this beautiful town today …

Valladolid, Mexico has a rich and fascinating history that dates back centuries. This city, which was founded in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors, is located in the state of Yucatan, it is one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos, or magic towns, due to its colonial architecture, colorful buildings, and the culture and history of the city. Valladolid is surrounded by cenotes, with the prehispanic archaeological sites of Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam located close by. During the night there is a 25-minute light and sound show that is shown on the side of the Convento de San Bernardino de Siena, in the neighborhood of Sisal. The English show starts at 9:25 PM, and goes through some of the history and story of Valladolid, but why not learn a little before your visit?

Prehispanic Valladolid

Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, the Yucatan Peninsula in the southeastern region of Mexico was occupied by some of Mexico’s indigenous cultures, including the Mayans. The Mayans built grand cities and towns, the ruins of which still stand today, including Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Coba, Tulum, and others. The Mayan village that the city was built atop was called Zaci, meaning “white hawk” in Maya, this was a site on a crossroads that connected Mayan cities such as Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Coba.


In the 16th Century when the Spanish landed in Mexico and conquered its indigenous groups, the colonisation of Mexico steadily began. They landed in the Yucatan Peninsula in 1517, but did not attempt to conquer until 1527 when they failed, facing pushback from the indigenous groups, they tried several more times and eventually founded several towns in the Yucatan Peninsula, including Valladolid in 1543. The name of the conquistador was Francisco de Montejo. Valladolid was named after the capital city of Spain at the time. Valladolid was the second city built by the colonizers, after Merida (the capital of the state of Yucatan). During the construction of the city, the Spanish ended up using some of the stones of the temples and buildings in the town in their own buildings, to this day some of the corners of the colonial buildings that stand in Valladolid have rocks from the previous Mayan buildings. The conquistadors faced much resistance from the Mayans, so they set to work congregating the scattered native population and setting about evangelizing them, and teaching them the Catholic religion. This is where the Franciscan friars come in, they set about constructing the Convent of San Bernadino de Siena in Valladolid, a building that can still be visited today in the historic city, and one of the oldest buildings in the city, it is here at night that you can watch a light and sound show at 9:25 PM, and learn about the history of Valladolid. The construction of the convent was completed in 1560 and it became a refuge during some of the battles that Valladolid witnessed.

War and Rebellion

Valladolid played an important role during the region’s Caste War which began in 1847 when the native Mayans in the region rioted and revolted against the Spanish settlers. The Mayans won during the initial riot, but the Spanish took back the city, and the conflict lasted for over half a century. As well as the Caste War, Valladolid is also the setting of another of Mexico’s most significant events as it is thought that the” first spark of the Mexican Revolution” was ignited here in 1910. The coup was initiated by the independent electoral center against the dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz at the time. The rebels consisted of laborers from local haciendas, they took the city and removed railroad tracks connecting to Meridam they fought in a bloody battle which sparked the revolution and a new era.

Due to its centricity in these disputes, Valladolid has several nicknames including “Heroic Zaci”, “La Sultana de Oriente” (The Sultana of the East), and the “Pearl of the Orient”.

21st Century Valladolid

Nowadays you can visit Valladolid and learn about some of the history of this city, which has been growing in popularity over the years, take a trip to the nearby local ruins of Ek Balam and Chichen Itza, and watch the historic light and sound show. Enter the Convent of San Bernadino, and walk down the Calzada de los Frailes - the colorful street that leads from the city center to the neighborhood of Sisal (where the covent is). There are also free walking tours in the city which can teach you a little more about certain areas, and the history of specific buildings. Take a trip to Mexico’s ‘Pearl of the Orient’, this magic town, and experience the culture and traditions for yourself.

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