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The Grand-Daddy of Mexico City Museums? National Anthropology Museum

Which city in the world has more museums than any other city?

(Hint – it’s not Paris.)

It’s Mexico City.

And the grand-daddy of all the city’s museums is the world-class National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Museo Nacional de Antropologia or MNA).

Built around a central courtyard, it’s huge (20 acres in size). It has 23 exhibit halls and more than 600,000 artifacts in its collection – the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican art objects, in fact.

You could spend days browsing the exhibits here.

But if your time is limited, what are the things you absolutely must see at this Mexico City museum?

Exhibit at National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Mexico City museums

Before we get to the must-see exhibits, let’s talk a little more about Mexico City’s museums.

It may come as a surprise, given all the history and culture in Europe.

But Mexico is rich in history and culture too.

Whether Mexico City does indeed have the most number of museums is actually irrelevant.

The fact is there’s an astounding collection of top-notch Mexico city museums – more than 150 museums!

We thought we’d seen some pretty quirky museums in Mexico’s colonial cities – like the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato and the whimsical Toy Museum in San Miguel de Allende.

In Mexico City, however, there are museums to suit every intellectual fancy, from shoe to cartoon museums, even a pen museum.

But as we’ve mentioned, the top museum in Mexico City is the National Museum of Anthropology.

Don’t miss it when visiting the country’s capital!

Highlights of the National Anthropology Museum, Mexico City

National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City was founded in 1825. But it opened in a modern new building in 1964 and is very contemporary in design.

It tells the story of the earlier history of Mexico – from the country’s pre-Columbian past through to the Mayan civilization, the Aztec empire and the time of the Spanish conquest.

You’ll find archaeology exhibits and anthropological artifacts on the ground floor. Ethnographic exhibits relating to Mexico’s indigenous descendants are on the upper level.

Devouring God, Museum Anthropology Mexico City

We could only allow a half-day here at the Mexico City Anthropology Museum. (There was much more we also wanted to see in Mexico City!)

So we concentrated our visit on the most significant displays – the Teotihuacan, Maya and Aztec exhibit halls.

It was particularly interesting to learn more about the difference between the Aztec and Maya civilizations.

Mayans vs Aztecs

The Mayans:

They came first, starting around 2,500 B.C.

They lived mainly in the Yucatan Peninsula and flourished between 200 and 900 A.D (building the cities of Tulum, Coba and Chichen Itza).

The Aztecs:

They came later and founded Mexico City (then known as Tenochtitlan) on an island on Lake Texcoco in 1325 A.D.

The Spanish eventually conquered them in 1521.

Must-See Exhibits at this Mexico City anthropology museum

Aztec Sun Stone:

The most famous exhibit is the 24-ton “Sun Stone” (Piedra del Sol).

Aztec Sun Stone at the Mexico City anthropology museum

It was originally thought to be an Aztec calendar. But we know now that it’s not.

Almost 12 feet in diameter and weighing a reported 23 tons, the Aztec Stone of the Sun is enormous.

It’s thought to have been carved early in the 16th century, toward the end of the Aztec empire.

While it’s not known precisely what the stone’s carvings and symbols represent, it is believed they relate to the sun. The center image depicts the Aztec sun god, Tonatiuh.

Chacmool figures:

You’ll also see a couple of chacmool sculptures in the same room as the Aztec Sun Stone.

These pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculptures show a reclining human-like figure, with its head turned 90 degrees.

Chacmool sculpture at National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

You can also see a stone sculpture of an ocelet creature resting on all four legs, with a bowl carved into the top of its back.

Priests would have poured the blood of sacrificial victims and placed the hearts cut out of living victims inside the bowl.

National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Aztec God of the Dead:

The Disc of Mictlantecutli, the Aztec God of the Dead is another one of the main attractions in the museum.

Aztec God of the Dead (Disc of Mictlantecutli) at the anthropology museum in Mexico City

Ball hoop:

The ancient Mayans would play a ball game called Pok-A-Tok, which was like a cross between soccer and basketball.

The aim was to hit a hard rubber ball into a stone hoop, placed some 20 feet high at both ends of the playing field. But you could only use your thighs and hips to do so!

The game had ritual significance. And the penalty for losing was death. This fit in with the Mayan belief that human sacrifice nourished the gods.

Between the Teotihuacan and Aztec galleries, you can see examples of these ball hoops from places where the ball game was played.

Mayan ball hoop

Photos of the Mexico National Museum of Anthropology:

Here are a few more photos of the cultural exhibits we saw…

Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology exhibit

Bottom line? The Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is one of the best museums we’ve ever seen!

Visiting Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum

Location: The National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, is located in Chapultepec Park.

Hours: It’s open every day, except Monday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Cost: 85 MX pesos (less than $5.00 USD). There’s free admission on Sundays for Mexican residents and foreigners living in Mexico.

Tip: If time is short, head directly to the Teotihuacan, Maya and Aztec exhibition halls.

More information: See the museum’s website.

Experience more of Mexico!

San Miguel de Allende | From browsing art galleries to digging the plants at the botanical gardens, these are the top things to do in San Miguel de Allende!

Guadalajara’s hot art | Jose Clemente Orozco sure knew how to paint! Check out the fiery Orozco murals in Guadalajara.

Morelia | We love that the colonial city of Morelia is so authentic and non-touristy. (Its candy market is pretty sweet too.)


Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except 8, 10, 11, 13)


About the authors:

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Ursula

Tuesday 19th of January 2016

I have never been to Mexico, but whenever I will go there the National Museum of Anthropology will be a top place to go. Thank you very much for the inspiring photos! Please allow me to share this wonderful post in my streams

Rachel Heller

Sunday 17th of January 2016

I've never been to Mexico City (other than changing flights), but I never would have guessed it has so many museums! When I do go I'll plan lots of time there. I'm impressed by your ability to get such good pictures in a museum; mine rarely come out good!

Janice and George

Sunday 17th of January 2016

Gee, thanks for the photo appreciation! Let us tell you, we took HUNDREDS of pics inside the museum. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time afterwards going delete, delete, delete.

Gonzo Stu

Thursday 14th of January 2016

I've been in DF for a few months now and for some crazy reason not checked the Anthropology museum out yet, thanks for the post, I love the Aztec and Mayan culture and you've inspired me to take a trip to the museum. Thank you!

Frank

Sunday 3rd of January 2016

Mexico City is a fascinating place and you're right about all the museums (most all in Chapultepek Park). We missed this park, I had visited with my mom and she had more of an interest in the Modern Art musuem next door. I want to go back to Mexico City and the Anthropology museum is for sure on my list.

Hope you also took the hop on/hop off bus? I have to admit I had many misconceptions about the city and was blown away by all the modern architecture and large avenues.

Janice and George

Friday 8th of January 2016

It's hard to see all the top museums in Mexico City in a limited visit :-). There are a couple of new art museums we want to see next. And, no, we didn't take the hop on/hop off bus - but we should have! We ended up walking and walking and walking everywhere. We had very tired feet at the end of most days :-).

Suze

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

We may be visiting Mexico this year so this museum will be top of our list - amazing how advanced the Mayan civilization was

Janice and George

Saturday 2nd of January 2016

This museum is definitely worth a visit. Hopefully you can also visit one of Mexico's colonial towns too - like Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende :-).