The National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

The National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Howard Adelman

Yesterday, we spent all day at the National Museum of Anthropology. Wow! Double Wow!! Triple Wow!!!

This is the best museum either of us has ever visited. It is also the most beautiful. I knew the latter because I had visited it once before, but only for a brief time. On this visit, we managed to go through almost all the galleries on the first floor. It was both exhausting – physically and mentally – but worth every minute.

We plan to return today to see the galleries dealing with ethnicity on the second floor. I will not describe what we saw in any detail. Suffice to say, in terms of aesthetics, its simplicity, the attention to detail in its finishing, the magnificence of the way artifacts are displayed, and, also, explained (we used the audio guide in English), the way the visitor paths are laid out, the organization of the galleries themselves, and the exquisiteness with which the wide variety of artifacts are presented, are all just extraordinary. When you first enter the huge courtyard at the centre, the immense free floating roof supported by only one bronze column that itself has figures inscribed on it is simply beautiful.

I will not describe anything in the museum. It would take a month of blogs. Mexico City is worth visiting for this museum alone. However, I will make clear what the museum is not. It is NOT a Museum of Anthropology. Only the first gallery is about traditional anthropology, more explicitly about the evolution of Homo sapiens. It will have to be updated now that Israeli archeologists have recently discovered a cache of bones that seems to provide a link between Homo erectus and both Homo sapiens and the Neanderthals. The second floor may justify that title since it is evidently about ethnicity, a sub-branch of anthropology. But the first floor is on archeology, more specifically, on the rich archeology of the various civilizations of Mexico. The museum in not a “national” museum because it was built and continues to be financed by the federal state. It is a national museum because it is about the archeological history and ethnicity of Mexico as a whole.

The museum is fifty years old this year. It is so well maintained and so wonderfully conceived and implemented that it could have been constructed just a few years ago. But do not wait fifty years to see if this remains the case.

Yesterday, we were also in the worst traffic jam ever – at least, for either of us. We took a taxi from the museum area to the Palace of Fine Arts. The trip should have been a 10-15 minute taxi ride. It took one hour and twenty-five minutes. We arrived just five minutes before the performance – and then only because of the skillful driving and ingenuity of the driver. If you want real thrills, try that drive with that driver.
About the Mexican folkloric ballet itself, the performance was very well received by the audience. We, however, were not impressed. When the performance began, we initially thought we might be viewing a Mexican version of Ireland’s Riverdance company – which might have been appropriate since Irish dance was so influenced by Spanish dance. The evening was definitely not that. It was a performance of dedicated Mexicans committed to preserving the variety of folk dances and costumes of Mexico.

Perhaps we should not have timed our going to the performance after seeing the museum. We had been in too high a state of exhilaration, exacerbated by the thrill of a lifetime in an extraordinary taxi ride.

Nevertheless, an extraordinary day!

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