Aztec Calendar

The couple I was traveling with had worked themselves up into a bit of a spat by the time we reached Mexico City. He was rabid to see everything. She was having stomach problems and wanted to be comfortable. It was beginning to look as if we might not make it to our destination- the Museo Nacional de Antropología – Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology.

“What do you care if we go,” he said. “You’ve already seen this museum.”

It was true. I had. Which is why I knew what to say next. “I have seen it, which is why I can tell you that it’s one of the best museums in the world. To be this close to it and not go would be really, really stupid.”

Revelateur Studio's photo of the National Museum of Anthropology.

Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology. Photo by Revelateur Studio.

We went to the museum and everyone was happy.

It stands to reason that this should be a great museum. The isthmus connecting North and South America was home to a variety of highly developed, pre-Columbian cultures, and the museum collection, which fills 23 rooms, has excellent examples. There are colossal Olmec heads, Mayan frescos, the gigantic Aztec “Calendar” stone, and scale models of Teotihuacán and Tenochtitlán (Mexico City). My friend fell in love with an Olmec sculptured masterpiece, the wrestler.

Michael McCarty's photo of the Aztec Calendar in Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology.

Aztec Calendar. Photo by Michael McCarty.

Any description of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology would be incomplete if it didn’t mention what a masterpiece the museum itself is. The building was designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano and Rafael Mijares, and opened in 1964. The exhibit halls are laid out in a two-story u-shape around a central patio. On the bottom floor you will find a room displaying the artifacts of each pre-Columbian culture (ie, the Mayan room, the Toltec room, etc.). Climb the stairs to see a display showing how the people of that particular culture lived. Or pass through the exhibit hall to the garden and see some of the giant stone artifacts exhibited outside, among plants, as they must have looked in situ.

Although some of the pieces are only labeled in Spanish, many are labeled in Spanish and English. And whether or not you choose to read the descriptions, you will have plenty to keep you busy for the better part of a day.

CarlosVanVegas' photo from Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology.

Another pre-Columbian masterpiece. Photo by CarlosVanVegas.

Many travelers go to Mexico’s beach resorts and never come to see the capital. This is a mistake. I was lucky to spend two full weeks in Mexico City the first time I came to this country and I never ran out of things to see. Why not tack on a few days in Mexico City at either end of your trip to Cancun? There’s enough here to occupy a person for weeks, but at the very least, three must-see sights; the ruins at Teotihuacán, the Diego Rivera murals and the National Museum of Anthropology.

Nacho Facello's photo from the National Anthropology Museum.

Pre-Columbian art of all meso-America in once place…Photo by Nacho Facello.

Visiting Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology

The museum is located in Chapultepec Park, in the heart of Mexico City (easy to get there by Metro). Along with the outstanding collection mentioned above, the museum also hosts visiting cultural exhibits from around the world. Check the website for updates.

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, year round.

Admission: 59 Mexican Pesos. Sorry, no credit cards.

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