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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.
The Museo Nacional de Antropologia, or MNA, was designed by the renowned architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and stands adjacent to El Bosque of Chapultepec.
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.
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.
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 museum boasts 23 exhibit halls covering just over 869,000 feet, housing a vast collection that showcases Mexico’s rich history and diverse cultures.
Arguably, the museum’s most famous artifact is the Aztec Sunstone, often referred to as the Aztec Calendar — which is a misnomer.
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.
Within the halls of the Maya exhibits, visitors are presented with impressive original facades of entire Maya temples from the Yucatán Peninsula.
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.
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 MNA has gone as far as reproducing entire Mesoamerican structures, such as Structure II from Chicana, Campeche.
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.
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.
The outside of the museum is constantly full of vendors selling everything from Oaxacan tlayudas to tacos and churros.
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.
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.
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.