One of the first things we noticed about properties for sale here in Merida was the floors. No kidding. Because many of the floors, even in the most humble of stores or homes, are covered with beautiful mosaico tiles. These tiles are made here in Merida, based on a technology brought here from Spain centuries ago. And as far as we know, the method and many of the designs haven’t changed much in the ensuing years.
Many years ago, we had the pleasure of being invited into a small tile manufacturing company, called Pisos y Mosaicos La Peninsular, and allowed to photograph the process. At the front of the old colonial building in the south of Merida is the large and impressive showroom, where they sell traditional mosaicos as well as new, factory-made tiles. Behind the front rooms is a large open warehouse. Only a handful of men work there in the back making the tiles on two presses, while stacks and stacks of tiles sit out to dry.
The process starts with the mold. Some of the molds at this shop were made over 50 years ago, and according to the owner, the people who can make a good mold here in Merida can be counted on one hand. The owner, Ignacio, who has since become a friend, treasures his vintage molds. Over the years, Ignacio has acquired more vintage molds and has developed workmen who can create new ones. Molds can be made to order, or you can choose one of the old ones. You can also choose the traditional colors for a design, or order your own color scheme.
The Process of Making Mosaico Tiles
The men start by pouring a thick wet sandy concrete into a square mold. The design mold is then set on top of the concrete, and colored pottery slip is poured into the different areas of the mold according to the design. This is all done very quickly. The package is then pressed by an old, oily, noisy hydraulic press for less than a minute, and then spit out on the other side. The end result is a 20 cm by 20 cm tile that is about an inch thick and quite heavy. The tile costs between $.80 and three dollars USD retail. One side is concrete and the other side is colored and designed. The colors at this stage are muted. The tile is carefully picked up and stacked with its brothers and left to dry for a few weeks. When it is thoroughly dry, it will be laid into a floor and then polished to bring out the bright colors. These tiles, to our surprise, are never baked or heated. The only thing that hardens the ingredients is pure pressure and time.
The tiles are sometimes called “pasta tiles”, perhaps for the paste-like nature of the ingredients. They are ubiquitous in the colonial homes of Merida and are one reason why these homes are so charming and attractive to renovate. Of course, if you buy a house whose tiles have been removed, (to make way for modern, white tiles, which native Yucatecans seem to think are more desirable for some reason), you can buy and install new ones.
The tiles seem to get better with age. Some of us prefer to let them mellow and get a little distressed. Others treat them specially with weekly doses of kerosene, aceite rojo and other secret ingredients to keep their tile floors polished and shiny. If you inherit a floor that looks a little worn and you want to make it new, you can hire a crew to polido (polish) the tiles.
You can see these tile floors throughout Merida in the most elegant colonial homes and in the most modest little tendejones (corner stores). They are a constant reminder of the former elegance of Merida at the beginning of the 20th Century and the very-much-alive Merida today that still has the artisans and craftsmen available to restore that elegance.
To shop tiles at Mosaicos Peninsular, visit their website at:
mosaicoslapeninsular.com/ Ignacio (Nacho) owns Mosaicos Peninsular… tell him Yucatan Living sent you!
Here’s a website that has information about this type of tile all around the world:
And another that lets you design your tiles online: