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?
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!
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photos of the Mexico National Museum of Anthropology:
Here are a few more photos of the cultural exhibits we saw…
Bottom line? The Anthropology Museum in Mexico City is one of the best museums we’ve ever seen!
Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except 8, 10, 11, 13)