After discovering Mexico City’s historic center and the beautiful colonial neighborhood of Coyoacan, let me take you today to another high spot of the Mexican capital: Chapultepec. This huge park offers a peaceful retreat at the heart of Mexico City.
The Chapultepec Park
With its 686 hectares, the Chapultepec Park is one of the biggest urban parks in the world. It contains serval museums, including the amazing museum of anthropology, as well as the Castle of the same name. The terrace of the castle offers the best view over the park. From there we can realize how huge and green it is. I love walking around its little paths lined up with palm trees and cypresses. Each time I go I am surprised by the number of squirrels that I encounter on my way.
Let’s enter the park via the Lions’ entrance. In the middle of the entrance door we can already see the tower of the castle !
– A few history words –
This amazing park has a very large history!
To put it in a nutshell, this area was originally a forest outside of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and was considered a sacred place by the Aztecs. It was called “Chapultepec” in Nahuatl (meaning “grasshopper hill”) as a reference to the shape of the hill or to the abundance of grasshoppers in the surrounding woods.
When the Spanish conquerors arrived, a major battle was fought on this site with the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc, in 1521.
Years later, in 1847, it was the site of another battle, but this time between Mexican and U.S. troops. It is said that six cadets decided to jump from the castle at the end of the battle, rather than surrounding to the US troops. These six cadets are referred to as the “Niños Héroes” and are honored by a monument at the foot of the hill.
In March, the jacaranda trees blossom, and embellish the park with their beautiful purple tones.
The Castle of Chapultepec
After walking around the park, let me take you to the Castle of Chapultepec, at the top of the hill. You can either reach the castle by going up by foot or by taking the little train. I usually like to walk to better enjoy the amazing view. The higher we go, the bigger the park seems to be !
– More history words –
Just like the park, the castle has a long history.
When the Aztecs took over the valley of Mexico, they considered the hill as both a sacred and strategic site and started building a palace there in the 1420s.
After the Spanish conquest, the viceroys first used Chapultepec has a retreat castle and then as their official residence.
After the Independence from Spain, the castle became the official residence of the Mexico’s heads of state. During the reign of Emperor Maximilian, the castle began to acquire its current look. The Emperor remodeled the castle in a neoclassical style and made it more comfortable.
Back then, the castle was still located on the outskirts of Mexico City and Maximilian ordered the construction of a straight boulevard to connect the Imperial residence with the city center. This boulevard was first called “Paseo de la Emperatriz” but was then renamed “Paseo de la Reforma” after the reestablishment of the Republic in 1867 by President Benito Juárez.
In 1940, the president’s residence was moved to the nearby Los Pinos complex and the castle was converted into the Museum of History.
Once we have arrived on the first terrace, we can take a magestic stair case that we lead us to the higher terrace. With this beautiful floor, the balustrade, the flowers and the gorgeous view on the park, this terrace is my favorite place in the whole castle ! I also love the contrast between the huge green area and the modernity of the skyscrappers.
The castle contains several rooms that have not changed since the time when the Emperor Maximilian lived there.
We can then go up to a third terrace where we discover the appartments of Porfirio Diaz, this ancient president of Mexico I already told you about because he loved Paris so much. He had this beautiful gallery made with stained-glass according to a French technique.
The castle also contains a collection of furniture from the colonial period to the 19th century: utensils, suits, coins, manuscripts, sculptures and many other art works. A number of items belonged to the famous characters of Mexico’s history.
In addition, there are breathtaking murals by famous Mexican muralists.
The National Museum of Anthropology
Finally, let’s visit the National Museum of Anthropology which is considered one of the greatest archeological museums in the world. Its different sections are dedicated to the major pre-Hispanic civilizations in Mexico (Toltec, Olmec, Aztec, Maya).
The museum has an impressive architecture with exhibition halls surrounding a patio with a huge pond and a vast square concrete umbrella supported by a single slender pillar (known as “el paraguas”, Spanish for “the umbrella”) around which splashes an artificial cascade.
Here are some of the pieces that most impressed me.
In the Aztec room, I was amazed by the huge piedra del sol that we can see right upon entering this room.
This is a representation of what Mexico City (or Tenochtitlan) looked like centuries ago, during the Aztec reign and as it appeared to the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived in 1521. The whole city was in the middle of a lake and the different areas were connected by a system of canals.
Here is a series of impressive sculptures of strange characters…