National Museum of Anthropology

Locked beneath glass, frozen in time - museum exhibits are often regarded platitudinous relics of a time that man forgot - until that is, you discover the cultural symbols still very much alive and impressing at Mexico City's world famous National Museum of Anthropology. Nestled between the vivacious Chapultepec Park and Calle de Mahatma Ghandi, Museo Nacional de Antropología occupies a historically prolific area in the Central West of Mexico City, allegedly the place where Aztec Tlatoanis (emperors) were wont to roam. The environment might have changed somewhat, however, there is still an air of regal splendor among the rooms of NMA, where remarkable relics of the Tenochtitlán empire bridge Mexico's connection with the past.

Planned by design trio Jorge Campuzano, Rafael Mijares and Pedro Ramírez Vázquez in 1963, the National Museum of Anthropology represents a futuristic feat of Mexican engineering, wholly unique for architectural styles of the time. Framed around a huge fountain dominated courtyard, the imposing U-shaped structure is mirrored by a magnificent square pool reminiscent of those once decorating the plazas of Teotihuacan. Beneath a mezzanine ceiling close to the main entrance stands El Paraguas, an umbrella-shaped monument inscribed with various interpretations from the Maya Long Calendar. A shower of water creates a prismic cascade around the entire structure – a glistening family photo opportunity.

El Paraguas is just one of many wonders housed within the grounds of NMA. Two colossal Olmec heads rescued from the jungles of Veracruz adorn adjacent plinths overlooking the manicured courtyard. Dating from around 800 B.C.E, the 3 meter high structures weigh in excess of twenty tonnes each and are thought to represent significant warriors or rulers of San Lorenzo and La Venta. At the approach from Paseo de Reforma, a huge statue of the Rain God Tláloc greets visitors with a stony stare. Relocated from a ruin in the East of Mexico City in 1963, it has been said that the upheaval of the statue caused a rainstorm lasting for over a week. A semi-ruinous replication of Palenque's Temple 20 stands East of the main complex, complete with the tombstones of notable emperors studded with animated petroglyphs.

Of the many huge halls dedicated to various ages, the Maya Room is by far the most popular. A square model reproduction of Mexico City dominates the center, portraying Tenochtitlan at the peak of Mayan domination. The Mask of Lord Pakal is of notable interest, since he was one of the longest reigning Palenque monarchs – enthroned for over 68 years. Upon his passing at the age of 80 (in 683), he was entombed within the Temple of Inscriptions – the largest pyramid structure still standing at Palenque. A copy of his carved sarcophagal lid forms one of the many objects detailing aspects of his reign. The Olmec Room is dominated by artifacts of cultural symbolism, including the dragon-like serpent Xiuhcóatl (God of Fire) and Ocelotl-Cuauhxicalli, a jaguar monument once used to store the hearts of human sacrifice victims. Murals by Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera further add dynamism to these fascinating Olmec tales, bringing to life the revered rulers of Palenque, La Venta and Tenochtitlan.

Every room of the NMA houses at least one genuinely astounding treasure of national importance, making a trip here liable to unplanned extension. If you're truly intent on absorbing the wealth of Mexican heritage on offer, prepare to dedicate an entire day to this monument of cultural evolution!

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