Museo Nacional de Antropologia
(52) 55 5553 6275
Av Paseo de la Reforma S/N Esq. Calzada Ghandi,
Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo,
Mexico City 11560 , México
9:00 am – 7:00pm Tuesday – Sunday
Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology opened in 1968 after careful design by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez in collaboration with Jorge Campuzano y Rafael Mijares. So striking was the concept, that was awarded the gold medal at the 1965 São Paulo’s Architectural Bienal before a stone was turned; merely drawings and renders !
Between the parking area and the entry there is the Danza de los Voladores, where high-flyers hang from one foot and spin, descending around a 10-story pole. Once you finish gawking at this spectacle is the massive statue of water god Tjáloc, welcoming the visitor to the museum. The statue weights about 168 tons and was brought in from Coatlinchan, a town east of Mexico city. Behind Tlaloc, from the subterranean parking, emerges a waterfall. The path towards the entry is set with relaxing benches; note on the wall over the main doors is a predominant national coat of arms disc (see below).
The museum is a two floor structure with a grand inner courtyard, inspired by the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas de Uxmal. At the front of the courtyard is el paraguas (the umbrella), a massive structure supported by a concrete pillar in the center as water falls from around the top . Note the top of the walls in this area for replicas of a Aztec codices (screenfold books).
On the far side, lays a large rectangular pond with clusters of long grass and Irises. You move in and out of this astounding courtyard to the surrounding anthropology rooms: Introduction to anthropology, America’s population, pre-classic, Teotihuacan, Toltecs, Mexica, Oaxaca cultures, golf cultures, Maya, western cultures and northern cultures.
The building is a modern achievement to show off the excitement of Mexican Heritage!
National coat of arms symbolizes a scene from the legend of the foundation of Aztec/Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico city.
The legend states that the Mexicas set out east from coastal Aztlán, present-day Nayarit, in search of where to settle and establish their empire. The trekked awaiting a sign from the god Huitzilopochtli telling them where to stop.
The sign they were looking for was quite specific: an eagle devouring a serpent while perched on a flowering nopal cactus on a small island in the middle of a lake.
After a long journey, the symbol appeared in the Valley of Mexico in 1325. The current site of Mexico DF and the seat of empire for 700 years!
For the ancient Mexicans, the eagle symbolized the cosmic force of the sun, while the earth’s force was embodied in the image of the serpent. The eagle devouring the snake represents the communion of these vital forces. The nopal cactus being an important source of food in prehispanic times.
TIP: If you are on a time crunch an have only one day to visit the large museum, skip the 2 first halls and jump directly in to the Teotihuacan hall on the ground floor and continue on to the following sections. Then, if you have time at the end, visit the first two halls on the ground floor, followed by a jump to their second floor; there you can view ta sample of the etno-linguistic diversity from different corners of Mexico, and dioramas of their customs such as crafts, religion, music and rituals. In this area, one can have a great look at some of the best examples of current Mexican handcrafts.
Toltec statue of Chac Mool from Chichen Itza; it’s name translates from Yucatecan Maya as “paw swift like thunder”. It is believed to represent a powerful warrior prince who had once ruled Chiche’n Itza.
Zapoteca Jaguar clay sculpture originating from Monte Albán, Oaxaca (100 B.C- 200 A.D) High 88.50 cm
Stone figure of Xiuhcoatl the fire serpent
The 3.5 meters high, the statue of Coatlicue is one of the more representative pieces of the museum. It belongs to the Mexica culture, is made out of Andesite, a volcanic rock, and dates 1325-1521 A.D. Coatlicue, is the goddess of earth and mothers.
Myth tells that Coatlicue was sweeping when a white ball of feathers fell from the sky. She picked it up and safeguarded it in her breasts. She then became miraculously pregnant by Huitzilopochtli, the sun and war god and patron god of Mexica. Her daughter Coyolxauhqui and the rest of her brothers, upset by the mysterious (immaculate) conception decided to kill their mother. At the instant in which they were ready to do the deed, Huitzilopochtli was born in all his warrior attire -holding the chimalli (shield) and the xiuhcoatl (fire serpent) instrument which he used to slay his new brothers and sister.
This myth symbolizes the birth of a new sun to govern a new world.
Mayan ceramic Anciano emergiendo del caracol (old man emerging from a shell), dating 600-900 A.D. For the Mayas, shells had a very special meaning; they represented the earth, the infraworld and death. At the same time, however, they were symbols of life and birth related to femininity and the moon goddess.
The Mexica Piedra de Tizoc was discovered in 1791 deep in Mexico city’s main square. It dates from 1481-1486 A.D. and measures about a 267cm (8′-9″) in diameter. On top of this monument, a ritual was performed in which a Mexica warrior would fight a war prisoner. The prisoner would be given a weak weapon and the warrior would be fully armed; turning this fight into a sacrifice.
On the face of the stone you can see the carved scene of a Tizoc governor grabbing the prisoner by the head – a sign of the enemies defeat. Also note the top right corner on each frame, at that corner there is an icon of the defeated town.
Many of the walls in the different chambers are decorated with murals replicas of of ancient frescoes, like this one of a Teotihuacan Fresco
Teotihuacan Fresco detail
Statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of art, games, beauty, dance, flowers, and song. Amazingly, traces of the red pigment in which the statue was originally painted are still visible. The Ear spools are a sign of noble status. Psychotropic flowers are sculpted on the body. Amongst them are the tobacco flower, used by the Aztecs to stimulate hallucinogens, morning glory – a vine with bell shaped flower – used as a visionary intoxicant to gain knowledge and. Sinicuichi, a yellow flower for memory aid. On the knees and at the pedestal of the statue are mushroom flower motifs that represent clusters of magic mushrooms or Teonanacatl (flesh of the gods). On the chest is the skin of a beast and on its ankle are its claws. Very powerful indeed!
Aztec Macuilxochitl, god of songs, dance and music.
Mexica andesite sculptere of a Ocelotl Cuauhxicalli (circa 1500 A.D.) resuming: 93cm high; 105cm; depth: 227cm. long.
The cuauhxicalli were sculpted in different shapes and served as offering containers. Often holding the hearts and blood of the sacrificed captives as well as other kind of offerings to the gods. This ocelot cuauhxicalli has a circular hole on the back decorated with the images of the gods Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca.
A small outdoor grove with a ‘jungle temple’ for those who don’t make it out of DF 🙂