National Museum of Anthropology

(continuer en français) – Published: March 6, 2021

The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City has an impressive collection of pre-Columbian artefacts, those that once embellished the temples we visit today stripped of their most beautiful ornaments.

Tourists come from all over the world to visit bare ruins in the heat and dust, scattered across a vast country at the end of endless bumpy roads, while the most beautiful is to be found in this great museum of the capital, pleasantly laid out and temperate, located only a few metro stations from most hotels.

For the curious traveller, the museum has a lot to offer, it is the essential complement to the visit of the archaeological sites. Instantly, it is possible to reconstruct the richness of shapes and colours, those that captivated and impressed the crowds conditioned in the grandiose rituals that historians like to describe.

The museum is located at the entrance to Chapultepec Park, in the heart of the best areas of the Mexican capital. Succeeding several other institutions whose perimeters have changed over time, the current museum dates back to 1964. The visitor is greeted by downpours of water surrounding a massive pillar that alone supports a large slab. This is a representation of rain, a precious natural phenomenon in Mexico, where many regions suffer from chronic drought. How many human sacrifices were made to satisfy Tlaloc, the god of rain.

Beyond the giant fountain, the museum is organised around the central patio, which is largely occupied by a pond of water, water again, as a source of wealth. The collections are presented in 22 large rooms on two levels.

The ground floor is dedicated to archaeology, with works from the Olmecs, Toltecs or Mayas and other regional cultures. On the second floor, the main peoples occupying present-day Mexico are the subject of an ethnographic presentation, including the reconstruction of their traditional habitat.

A large model shows the ceremonial centre of Mexico City as it must have been before the arrival of the Spaniards, under the name of Tenochtitlan. At that time the city itself occupied an island on a vast lake that has now dried up. This geography explains the fragility of the soil, which tends to sink under the weight of urbanisation.

Opposite the entrance in the main axis of the museum, occupying the place of honour, is the Aztec sun stone. It was discovered by chance during work carried out on the Plaza Mayor in the centre of Mexico City, where the main monuments of the Aztec era stood. Sometimes mistakenly considered a calendar, it is more likely to be an altar or even a sacrificial stone. Once exposed at the foot of the cathedral, the Aztec sun stone has regained its status as a national symbol, just as it did in ancient times.

Around the Aztec sun stone are gathered some of the most important pieces of art. To the left of the next picture is the monolith of Coatlicue. It too was found in 1790, buried under the Plaza Mayor. Its preservation was the first step in gathering this national collection, which is now on display in the museum.

The monolith was first installed at the university, but as the natives continued to come to worship Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of the Earth, it was decided to bury it again. She is now back in public, there is no indication that her veneration has completely disappeared.

The museum has reconstructed part of the façade of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan, an Aztec site near Mexico City. The richness of the sculpted decoration, sometimes enhanced with bright colours, is striking. Beneath the temple, a tomb was discovered and reproduced. It contained the remains of victims of human sacrifice, with their hands still tied behind their backs.

The National Museum of Anthropology is the most visited museum in the country with more than two million visitors a year. The free entrance on Sundays should do much to boost this figure, of all the families who come to walk more than visit it on their way to the park.

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National Museum of Anthropology

The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City has an impressive collection of pre-Columbian artefacts, those that once embellished the temples we visit today stripped of their most beautiful ornaments.

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To be informed of upcoming articles, register here (it’s free).


    • It is indeed a very photogenic place, we can see some beautiful pre-Columbian works of art that are lacking in the archaeological sites to fully reflect them.


    • Museums should be visited for their collections, but strangely enough they are one of the few buildings that are still subject to architectural efforts, so the visitor is also interested in their external appearance.


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