CDMX’s National Museum of Anthropology is Among the Best in the World

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Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology houses some of the country’s largest and most impressive exhibits in the entire country — which is saying something when one considers CDMX is second only to London in sheer number of museums. 

Mexico City’s MNA is one of its most popular tourist destinations, but given its great size, it’s unlikely one will ever feel cramped in its many halls. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The Museo Nacional de Antropologia, or MNA, was designed by the renowned architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and stands adjacent to El Bosque of Chapultepec.

The Bosque of Chapultepec is always full of locals and tourists enjoying its many attractions. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

El Bosque de Chapultepec houses CDMX’s zoo, several of its most famous parks, and Chapultepec Caste. This grand construction served as the seat of power of the Spanish Crown, Emperor Maximilian of the House of Habsburg, and several Mexican presidents.

Reproduction of the sculpture of Mictlantecuhtli (the Aztec lord of the Underworld) found in El Zapotal, Veracruz. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

When approaching the MNA, among of the first features one will likely notice is the enormous monolith adorning the entrance to its grounds depicting the Aztec god of rain.

The massive Tlaloc monument was taken from the site of its discovery in Coatlinchan in México State in 1964, much to the lament of the town’s population. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Once through the museum’s gates, visitors enter a large courtyard covered by what appears to be a massive parasol decorated with Mesoamerican iconography.

The parasol covering the MNA’s courtyard also serves as a fountain and indeed seems to defy physics, though it has survived several of the most intense earthquakes in Mexico’s history. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The museum boasts 23 exhibit halls covering just over 869,000 feet, housing a vast collection that showcases Mexico’s rich history and diverse cultures.

Detail of a feathered serpent from Xochicalco in the state of Morelos. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Arguably, the museum’s most famous artifact is the Aztec Sunstone, often referred to as the Aztec Calendar — which is a misnomer.

The Aztec Sun Stone, also known as the Piedra del Sol, is a monumental sculpture considered one of the most iconic artworks of the Mexica people who founded the Aztec empire. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The archaeological halls on the ground floor allow visitors to explore Mesoamerican civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, and Aztec through their architecture, sculptures, ceramics, and everyday objects.

The sheer amount of artifacts on display at the MNA is amazing in itself, but the beauty and refinement of its artifacts are second to none. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Within the halls of the Maya exhibits, visitors are presented with impressive original facades of entire Maya temples from the Yucatán Peninsula. 

A Puuc-style facade was carefully disassembled in the Yucatán Peninsula and reassembled within CDMX’s MNA. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Another of the most impressive artifacts on display from the Maya world is the Frieze of Pleasures, installed at the MNA after being discovered in a series of crates, attempting to be smuggled across the northern border in the 1960s. 

The massive frieze, known as “El Friso de Placeres,” weighs 8 tons and is over 25 feet tall. Much of its color was recently restored by a team of archaeologists led by renowned Mayanist Sergio González García. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Aside from its indoor exhibits, the MNA also features an outdoor area featuring originals and replicas of some of the most famous artifacts across Mexico.

The Olmec head found in the outside exhibits is meant to replicate its environment in Tabasco, but an original can also be seen indoors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The MNA has gone as far as reproducing entire Mesoamerican structures, such as Structure II from Chicana, Campeche. 

Structure II is famous for being one of the best-preserved examples of “monster of the earth facades,” easily recognizable for their masklike facade with an open maw. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

One of the most impressive features of these outside exhibits is a replica of Bonampak’s frescoes. The fresco replicas were hand-painted by the famous Guatemalan artist Rina Lazo — an apprentice of Diego Rivera early in her career.

A replica of one of the several frescoes from Bonampak depicts Lord Chan Muhan II holding court, deciding the fate of war captives. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The MNA is also home to original Mesoamerican manuscripts and exquisite replicas, including the Popol Vuh (which translates as “Book of the Community” the Codex Borbonicus, and the Dresden Codex.

Reproduction of the Dresden Codex, named after the German city it is currently on display in. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

The outside of the museum is constantly full of vendors selling everything from Oaxacan tlayudas to tacos and churros. 

The prices for snacks outside the museum are a little steep but way better in both food and price than those sold at the onsite cafeteria, which is the only part of the complex that genuinely requires an overhaul. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Outside the museum, it is possible to view the death-defying ritual of the Voladores de Papantla. The ritual is thought to have origins in Mesoamerica’s pre-classic age among cultures in central Mexico. It survives today, most notably in Puebla and Mexico states, but perhaps most famously in Veracruz.

Though at most locations, the ritual is performed, tipping is not compulsory. It is in extremely bad taste not to do so if you choose to stick around and observe the ceremony. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Mexico City’s MNA is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission costs a very reasonable 95 pesos (roughly $5). Entrance is free on Sunday for Mexican nationals and foreign residents, as well as those with Mexican Student ID’s and INEPAM card holders. 

A cuauhxicalli of a Jaguar which served as an altar-like stone vessel used by the Aztecs in sacrificial ceremonies. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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