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The National Museum of Anthropology and History

In 1959, the old Anthropology Museum in the Historic Centre of Mexico City outgrew its facilities while the jewels of Mexico’s pre-Columbian past were in need of a better home. The plan for a new museum was naturally appointed to the famed architect of the Modern regime, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. As a new addition to the Mexico City network of culture, the new design for the Anthropology Museum was assigned a talented team of architects including Rafael Mijares and Jorge Campuzano.

On September 17th, 1964—two days after the commemoration of Mexico’s Independence Day—the National Museum of Anthropology and History (NMAH) was inaugurated by President Adolfo López Mateos and immediately became the most important cultural project of his administration. Nowadays the NMAH is one of the most important international museums dedicated to the exhibition of research related to the disciplines of anthropology, archeology and ethnography.

The museum's collection houses a wide range of objects from the entire country and from the different cultures that inhabited the pre-Columbian times: Mayan, Olmec, Aztec, Toltec, Zapotec and Mixtec, among others. The space was intended to impress and sensitize the spectator on the importance of the legacy of the ancient pre-Columbian cultures. The architectonic design was thus inspired by the Mesoamerican ceremonial centres that integrated exterior and interior spaces with a harmonious sense of monumentality and scale. Even the design of the building’s details, such as the lattice and the interior ornaments, were inspired by ancient mythologies and patterns of the Mesoamerican period.

The building’s configuration is centred around a central patio with a single column supporting a large canopy. This structural centrepiece is covered by a cast copper sculpture designed by artist José Chávez Morado who interpreted the cosmogony of ancient Mexico. Surrounding the main patio are the principal exhibition halls on the lower level of the building, whilst the upper floor contains the ethnographic exhibitions. The windows on the upper floor are decorated by a snake-themed lattice conceived by artist Manuel Felguerez who reinterprets the movement and iconic flow of the god Quetzalcoatl.

The edification of the Museum of Anthropology represented a new cannon for museum architectures worldwide. The NMAH played an important role in the consolidation of a modern Mexican image and remains a significant tourist attraction for the City. Nowadays the museum continues to impress its millions of yearly visitors with symbiotic use of pre-Columbian heritage and modern Mexican design.

Project name The National Museum of Anthropology and History
Period 1963
Contributor Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano and Rafael Miares
Location Av Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Gandhi S/N, Chapultepec Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, 11560 Ciudad de México, CDMX