Mexico City's Museums Delve Deep Into It's Past

Mexico City's Museums Delve Deep Into It's Past photo

A great city doesn't just happen; it evolves over time. The greater the city the deeper and more fascinating is its history. Mexico City is no exception. But to truly understand it, you have to go deep inside — inside its museums, that is. Some of the best hotels in Mexico City stand nearby.

The best place to start exploring is the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park.

Renowned for its collection of pre-Columbian art, artifacts and reproductions, it will give you an extraordinary overview of Mexican culture down through the centuries. One of the great museums of the world, ranking at the top with the Louvre in Paris, it's well thought-out. You'll find its 22 exhibition halls arranged in an inverted U around a large open plaza, and several of them open onto outdoor displays that help prevent that I've-been-here-too-long stuffiness. Two hours will give you a cursory view of its three miles of exhibits.

The first floor of the museum contains archeological exhibits and the second offers displays of indigenous peoples and how they lived in various periods. Other must-sees are the Maya room, with its remarkable selection of ceramic statues; the Teotihuacan room, with its stone work; the sculptures of the Gulf of Mexico room, and the Oaxaca room, which displays burial artifacts recovered from the Monte Alban archeological site and a reconstruction of one of the tombs. Museum hours are from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays and holidays.

At the opposite end of Reforma Boulevard from Chapultepec Park is the Zocalo, or Plaza de la Constitucion. Here, across from the largest cathedral in Mexico, are the ruins of the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, of the Aztecs. Utility workers uncovered relics while working underground. Many of the stone carvings are in remarkably good condition, such as the reclining statue of Chac-Mool, said to be the messenger whose task it was to take gifts to the sun. An adjoining indoor museum offers exhibits of items taken from the dig. The museum and exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sunday.

If you take a tour to the Floating Gardens of Xochilmilco on the outskirts of the city, you'll visit the Xochimilco Archeological Museum. Open free from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, it contains two exhibition halls where approximately 6,000 pieces are on display. Included are mammoth bones and metals from the prehistoric period and ceramics, tombs and maps on stone from the preclassic period. An altar belonging to the Aztec culture is a highlight.

Moving up through history, the next most logical place to visit is the National Museum of History in Chaplutepec Castle. Sitting on a hill high above Chapultepec Park, the present castle stands on the site of the residence of Mocteszuma, the Aztec ruler conquered by Cortes. Emperor Maxmillian and his wife, Carlotta also occupied it during their two-year reign. You can see their elegantly furnished apartments as well as artifacts from Mexico's history from the conquest to the present. Be sure to take in the panoramic view of the city from the lower terrace. Murals by such famous artists as Orozco, Siquerios, and O'Gorman decorate the walls. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.

After viewing the long history of Mexico, you may want to visit the new Museum of the Revolution, located under the Monument to the Revolution downtown. The exhibits, featuring live film footage and memorabilia, document the beginnings of the Revolutionary period in Mexico. Through sound and artful dioramas, you get the feeling of being there during this restless time. Copies of the Mexican Constitution are also on view. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays.

For an in-depth look into the history of Mexico City, stop in at the Mexico City Museum near the Pino Suarez subway stop. Its 27 halls show the development of this great city from Pre-Hispanic times to the present. You'll also see the transformations that the city suffered since the conquest, during the Colonial period and on into the present. Documents, maps, scale models, photographs and projections help tell the story. Don't forget to visit the Sound and Light Hall to see the presentation before browsing around the museum. This museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.