The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is the single best introduction to the history and culture of Mexico. It is the National Museum of Anthropology, home to significant archaeological and anthropological artefacts from pre-Columbian Mexico. Opened in 1964, it houses statues, jewellery, weapons and pottery from the civilisations that populated Mesoamerica for the three millennia preceding Spanish invasions. It is said to be among the greatest museum in the world.
The museum hosts 23 exhibition halls arranged around a patio and water feature. The exhibition halls are surround by lush green gardens containing outdoor exhibits – its well worth spending some time wandering in the sun admiring the displays here. Indoor exhibits on the ground floor are divided between Mayan treasures and ancient Mexican art, while the upper floors house ethnographic displays of the current indigenous people, using maps, art and religious artefacts to explain their history and culture.
The key piece in the collection is the Piedra del Sol, Stone of the Sun, or the Aztec calendar stone. Carved in 1479, the 20-ton basalt tablet reflects the Aztec interpretation of time and space. It contains two calendars, the first documenting the days and weeks of a calendar year and the second scheduling the dates of divine rituals. Other notable pieces include the 16th-century Aztec statue of Xochipilli, the giant stone heads of Tabasco and Verecruz, and a handcrafted “monkey cup” carved from a single piece of obsidian. The Museo Nacional de Antropologia also hosts touring exhibitions focussing on other great cultures of the world, notably Egypt, Spain, Greece and Iran.
The museum is easily accessible, just outside the boundaries of Chapultepec Park – take the metro to either Chapultepec or Auditorio station and follow the signs from there. Free guided tours are conducted throughout the day, but its worth calling ahead to request an English-speaking guide. If you’d rather explore yourself, English signs are adequate and audio guides are available for a small fee. It might be worth pairing a visit here with the nearby National Museum of History, which focuses on post-Columbian Mexico, to get a complete look back over the events that led to the Mexico we know today.