La Ciudadela (The Citadel) - Atlas Obscura

La Ciudadela (The Citadel)

This now-abandoned shopping center in Playa del Carmen was built to resemble a medieval European castle. 

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Looking at modern-day Playa del Carmen, it might be easy to think that the city is older than it is, and that the shopping taking place on the main thoroughfare of La Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) must have been going on for as long as there’s been a Playa del Carmen.

But that’s not the case. Half a century ago Playa del Carmen, like most other parts of Riviera Maya, was a small fishing town. With the development of Cancún in the 1970s and 80s, Playa saw some growth of its own. By the 90s, it has become a destination in its own right.

As of the turn of the century, Playa del Carmen was already boasting the Quinta Avenida as an attraction. Just around the corner on 4th street was La Ciudadela, one of its first modern-style shopping centers. Though modern in its selection and arrangement of stores, this peculiar building’s appearance was inspired by a time long past on a faraway continent.

While Mayan Revival architecture was already well-established in the likes of Mérida by this point (and many examples are to be found in Playa currently), the developers of this “Citadel” instead opted for a design inspired by the castles of medieval Europe. A token Mayan gesture was the addition of a large carved figure resembling those of gods or ahaus (also spelled “ajaw,” these were the Maya leaders) outside on the ground level.

Similar to many actual castles, La Ciudadela’s structure outlived its original purpose. The shopping center closed in the early 2000s, but the building has stood with its exterior remaining mostly intact ever since. The reasons for its closure are unclear, but rumors abound among the rare Playenses old enough to remember when it was in operation. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the building, although going “full castle” and becoming a ruin might not be entirely out of the question.

Know Before You Go

The building cannot be accessed, but can be viewed from the street at all times.

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February 15, 2024

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