Mexico: Mexico City – Chapultepec Castle and the Anthropology Museum

The massive Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere and is home to some fabulous museums

 

 

Chapultepec, more commonly called the “Bosque de Chapultepec” in Mexico City, huge green space in the heart of Mexico City and is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring around 1700 acres. The name Chapultepec comes from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and means Hill of the Grasshopper (“chapul” – grasshopper, and “tepec” – hill). The park is a popular haunt for tourists and the locals alike – it has several forested areas, open spaces, gardens and a large lake which you can happily navigate on swan-shaped pedalos. As well as the usual features of a park, the Bosque Chapultepec is home to several museums, a castle, numerous monuments and statues and a world-renowned zoo.

 

The Monumento a los Niños Héroes

 

Getting to the park is relatively easy. If you are staying in the Condesa or Roma districts it is relatively easy to walk there within minutes. From the central district or other areas of Mexico City, you can use public transport. There are a couple of metro stations close to the park – Metro Auditorium (Line 7) and Metro Chapultepec (Line 1). If you don’t fancy the metro, and yes it is somewhat wild during peak hours, you can take Uber, which is inexpensive in Mexico City.

We had limited time to spend exploring Chapultepec on this occasion we decided to focus on a couple of the attractions.

 

The National Museum of Anthropology

 

National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropologia) in Mexico City contains the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican art and also has ethnographic exhibits about Mexico’s present-day indigenous groups. It is huge, with 23 permanent exhibit halls. If you so wish you could easily spend a day wandering around this museum.

 

Location: Paseo de la Reforma Avenue and Gandhi Road s / n Col. Chapultepec Polanco
Website: https://www.mna.inah.gob.mx/
Google Maps: Map
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sundays admission is the Mexican public and foreign residents. (Beware – Sundays are going to be crazy!)
Admission: General admission $ 80.00 MXN

 

They don’t like you taking large bags or backpacks through the museum but there is a free bag and coat drop place in the main foyer (next to the gift shop – which is also worth a visit!) ‘

There are free guided tours, in different languages, which will take you on an hour-long tour through a couple of the exhibition halls. We were lucky enough to hop on one of these tours.

The museum itself is laid out around a central plaza, in the centre of which is a very imposing water feature. If you have young children with you they are likely to make a beeline straight for this and unless you intercept them you’ll likely be towing around some bedraggled and potentially miserable offspring through the museum – this museum is not interactive so young kids may find it a yawn!

 

 

The exhibitions galleries are organized by the major cultures that have developed in Mexico, from the first inhabitants to the current indigenous peoples. There are believed to have been five major civilizations that developed in Mexico: Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec.

 

 

Mexico’s indigenous population is one of the two largest in the Americas (only Peru is comparable in size). More than one in ten Mexicans speak an indigenous language. There are 56 recognized indigenous languages. Around 8% of Mexico’s populations are classified as indigenous – but as you might expect most Mexican’s have some indigenous ancestor.

The first part of our tour took us to the Mayan galleries. Most people have heard of the Mayan civilizations – they occupied large parts of Central America, from South-Eastern Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The height of the Mayan civilization occurred from around 250 AD to 950 AD. After 950 AD the Mayan civilization collapsed – but many modern-day Mexicans can trace their roots back to this amazing civilization.

 

 

Next stop on our tour was the galleries of the Aztecs. This civilization came a bit later than the Mayans, the peak of their culture being between 1250 AD and 1521 AD. They set up base in the Valley of Mexico and built their capital city, Tenochtitlan, in what is now Mexico City. The Aztecs were fierce warriors and were doing very well until they met with the Spanish conquistadores under the leadership Hernán Cortés – who defeated them in 1521, signalling the end of Aztec rule.

 

The original Aztec Sunstone

Model of Tenochtitlan

Ocelotl-Cuauhxicalli

 

Our tour ended in the Aztec galleries, but there is much more to see but we decided to do a quick pass through some of the other galleries, stopping briefly at exhibits that caught our eye. There is a mind-boggling amount to see. The displays are primarily static displays of artefacts or reconstructions of buildings and monuments so after a while we were getting overwhelmed. It is one of those places you need to visit a few times to fully appreciate!

The most famous exhibit in this gallery is the Sunstone, which depicts the five consecutive worlds of the sun from Aztec mythology. The stone was discovered in the central plaza of Mexico City. It is huge, measuring 3.58 metres in diameter, is 98 centimetres thick, and weighs 25 tons. The stone would originally have been laid flat on the ground and possibly anointed with blood sacrifices.

 

Reproduction of the Temple of the feathered serpent in Teotihuacan

Replica of ball game “rings” – from Xichen Itza

 

Chapultepec Castle

A short walk from the Anthropological Museum is Chapultepec Castle. Set high up on a rocky outcrop, this castle has the distinction of being the only castle in North America to actually be the home to a sovereign of a country.

It was originally constructed in 1725 on the orders of the Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez, and was meant to be a large manor house for the Viceroy, who was the commander-in-chief of the Spanish colony, New Spain. During Mexico’s war of independence, it was abandoned and became derelict. Later is was refurbished and served for many years as a military academy.

Everything changed with the coming of the Second Mexican Empire. In 1864 the castle became the official residence of Emperor Maximilian I and his wife Empress Carlota. Although Maximilian had the title of Emperor of Mexico, he was, in fact, an Austrian prince of the Habsburg dynasty with zero Mexican ethnicity. He was given his position by Mexican monarchists who were puppets of the French who sought to add Mexico to their empire. During this period the castle began to take on its current floor plan, with Maximilian hiring multiple architects to re-design the castle in the neo-classical style which was popular at the time.

His reign was short, lasting only four years when the French were defeated and Mexico became a Republic. Sadly, it did not end well for Maximillian who was executed by firing squad. After his death, the castle once again fell into disrepair. Luckily, today the state has recognized the cultural importance of this castle with a chequered history and it now houses the National History Museum.

 

Location: Chapultepec Park
Website: https://www.mna.inah.gob.mx/
Google Maps: Map
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays admission is the Mexican public and foreign residents. (Beware – Sundays are going to be crazy!)
Admission: General admission $ 80.00 MXN

 

It worth knowing that the ticket office is at the bottom of the hill – because if you got to the top of the hill before finding out you would not be a happy bunny. The ticket office is called the “taquilla”. This is not be confused (as I did initially) with an establishment selling a Mexican alcoholic beverage!

It is a fairly stiff climb to the top of the hill. There is no obvious easy route for disabled folks or the simply unfit. This is also a service road for the castle so be wary of cars and trucks racing up and down with little regard for the tourists.

At the top of the hill, you are greeted with a very majestic building with spectacular views across the city.

 

 

As you enter the main building you are whisked through a series of galleries that take you through the history of post-colonial Mexico. Unfortunately, the majority of the information panels throughout the exhibition were in Spanish, which we don’t speak too well, but it was nonetheless interesting to see the displays of costumes and artefacts. There are also several splendid murals (the Mexican’s love their murals) depicting stories around the battle for independence.

 

Mural depicting the victory over the empire of Maximilian of Hapsburg

A mural showing the emergence of Mexico as an independent state

A mural showing the conflict between Spain and Mesoamerican cultures

 

From the main galleries, there is an extremely elegant staircase that takes you to the roof. Here are the private gardens and rooms of Emperor Maximilian I, the Alcázar. Maximillian was not a frugal person so he created an incredibly lavish set of living quarters for him and his wife together with a stunning rooftop garden with the most incredible views and its own little viewing tower.

 

Tower in the Alcázar gardens

 

Making the climb up the hill to visit Chapultepec Castle and the National History Museum is well worth the effort. The highlight, at least for me, was the beautiful Alcazar, especially the incredible rooftop garden!

 

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