Steven gave you the roundup of all that we did in our short jaunt to Mexico City, but I want to do a deeper dive.
First, the Museo Nacional de Antropología cannot be seen in a day, especially if you are an American who grew up in a time when Latin American history just did not appear in the curriculum (unless you count how we took parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah in the Treaty of Hidalgo). Mexican history is rich with many ancient cultures who interacted and overlapped in ways I was completely ignorant of. One of the joys of travel is my ever-expanding view of history and the interrelationships among peoples, innovations, and beliefs.
The museum focuses on Mexico’s pre-Columbian history and houses the famous sun stone, aka Aztec calendar stone. We arrived soon after it opened at 10 a.m. and spent a couple of hours there. Maybe we saw a quarter of the museum. It was a lot to absorb; having gone to the pyramids at Teotihuacan helped. The museum is in Bosque de Chapultepec, which is kind of like Central Park. Definitely worth a trip on its own.
The interior of the building itself is worth visiting. The courtyard features a continuous waterfall over a massive stone column (see top right below). I also loved the rich ochers and oranges used as background for the archeological artifacts. We were both at our limit when we decided we were hungry and it was time to head out. When we were leaving, the line was much longer. I’d get there early if you plan to visit. Plus, maybe you’ll have more stamina than we did and you will get to see more. Don’t forget that here, before you enter any public building, someone takes your temperature, gives you hand sanitizer and, in this case, sprays you with Covid killer. At least I hope that’s what it was.
Since I mentioned Teotihuacan (As an aside: Is every place a UNESCO heritage site now or are we just prone to visiting places worth preserving?), I’ll backtrack to that. Steven had seen pyramids before, but I had never. The sophistication of the society is what really impressed me. Of course, the technological feat in a time with no wheel is nothing to shake a stick at. The unnamed people (one theory is that they were Toltecs, but others dispute that) built a small structure and then built over it to expand it, using the interior structure for support. From the first through seventh centuries, they created a huge city with apartment complexes, administrative buildings and worship sites. (On the other hand, the civilization also sacrificed animals and children to keep the sun shining [which clearly worked because it was beautiful and sunny – our friends in Chicago should take note] ). And then, at some point, they abandoned it all, reasons unknown, and left it for the Aztecs to discover and name the city Teotihuacan, which means “the place where men become gods” in Nahuatl.
I used a picture of us just so you believe we were really there. Also, you can’t see it really well, but the Pyramid of the Moon, which we are standing in front of and also appears in a photo without us, has misaligned steps. That didn’t happen when it was built. The archeologists restoring it messed up.
The three large pyramids (Sun, Moon and Feathered Serpent) are connected by the Avenue of the Dead, which runs north-south for more than 1.5 miles. The city extended to the surrounding mountains. Try to imagine the whole city covered in murals and colorfully painted walls. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t climb the pyramids (Steven and our guide, Ivan, seemed a little too happy about that) or enter certain areas, but just being there was incredible. Speaking of Ivan, I highly recommend a tour, first, because it’s about an hour drive with Mexico City traffic and, second, because it’s a lot more interesting when you know what you’re looking at. He’ll even let you skip the tourist trap stuff if you want to, because there’s definitely tourist trap stuff (and Frida Kahlo, but more on her in another blog).