Outsite are a community for remote workers that help you to ‘work anywhere and live differently.’ At the start of 2024 they opened their first branch in Roma Sur, Mexico City.
Outsite’s contemporary co-living and co-working space in Roma Sur, Mexico City, has a harmonious blend of neutral tones and natural light, creating an inviting and tranquil home. Roma Sur is peppered with hole-in-the-wall taco stops, late night mezcal bars, local artisan pop-ups and lush canopied streets. Homes inspired by late 19th century French architecture stand shoulder to shoulder, housing airy, plant filled cafes and new eateries from up and coming Mexican chefs. With active whatsapp groups and a centralised platform that makes it easy to dip in and dip out, Outsite are focused on both work and play, while providing a healthy balance of community and personal space.
La Casa Azul
Frida Kahlo’s childhood home is now a museum of her life and works. From the outside, it is a simple structure in the Coyoacan district that would likely be overlooked if not for its striking shade of blue. But beyond the sky-coloured concrete lies a world that once brought two of Mexico’s most famous artists into contact with Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Before Trotsky ever made his way to Mexico City, La Casa Azul was already a hotbed of intellectual activity, and it was here that Frida learned to paint.
Kahlo passed away at home in 1958, and the museum today offers visitors an intimate look within its walls – some of which were modified by Rivera who studded them with volcanic rock and ceramic. Along with their artistic additions and a pre-Columbian courtyard pyramid replete with Aztec and Toltec artefacts, the museum also features the husband and wife’s retrospective, and showcases a famous inscription left behind by the tempestuous couple themselves. It reads simply “Frida and Diego lived in this house – 1929-1954.”
Although this may be the more iconic abode of the Mexican surrealist, Frida also resided and worked at another Casa Azul, in twin houses connected by an elevated bridge. The twin houses were designed by the famed painter and architect Juan O’Gorman, a friend of Rivera, and constructed in 1932. They combine a bold functionalist style with more traditional Mexican forms and touches, including the colours and rows of cacti (O’Gorman is considered the father of Mexican functionalism). The right house belonged to Frida. The only thing that retains the original furniture is the bathroom. Here the tub that appears in the painting “Lo que el agua me dio – What the water gave me” (1938) remains intact – this is where Frida painted a portrait of her feet from the bathtub. In this house of one’s own, Frida created the best of her work.
Museo de Arte Popular
Mexico is a vastly multilingual and multiethnic country, where thousands of different indigenous folk traditions meld with Spanish colonial influences and modernism to create a distinctive culture that can be extremely difficult to categorise. As such it has one of the richest traditions of folk art in the world (or as it is sometimes literally translated from Spanish, “popular art”). The Museo de Arte Popular embraces these uniquely Mexican crafts, displaying some of the weirdest and most wonderful religious articles, dioramas, monsters, skeletons, piñatas, and pottery you can find.
Octavio Paz famously wrote about the legendary treatment of death in Mexican culture: “The Mexican chases after death, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, and sleeps with it. He thinks of it as his favourite plaything and his most lasting love.” Whether or not this is broadly true, the Museo de Arte Popular demonstrates the cultural importance of death, and especially the Día de Muertos, through folk art traditions around the country. Skulls and skeleton figures of all sizes, shapes, and materials abound in the collection, and the museum hosts special celebrations on the Day of the Dead.
Mercado de Sonora, Medellin and Artesanal
Superstitious? For just about anything that ails you, there’s a solution in the Sonora Market, the largest esoteric market in Mexico and a must-see for those interested in mysticism. Local vendors have an answer to any of life’s daily troubles in the form of a magic soap, a holy water spray, or a love potion that uses toloache, a plant with hallucinogenic properties.
The span of products offered is immense, ranging from fruits and vegetables to bread or shampoo, peyote paste, as well as caged animals like chickens, dogs and rabbits. A large array of vernacular religions are represented in Sonora, from Voodoo to la Santa Muerte via Brujeria, the Mexican term for sorcery which comes with its own bizarre recipes. A number of these beliefs are practiced by people alongside their Catholic faith, a syncretic phenomenon with the most incredible imagery and rituals.
Pop into the artisan market for beautiful embroidered bags, skull ceramics and local coffee brewed by Ocelotl – spiked with homemade Mezcal flavours ranging from corn, cannabis and chile to scorpion. Here you will also be pointed towards an array of upmarket microdoses, smokable flowers and other ‘remedios antiguos.’
MUPYP – Museum of Pulque and Pulquerias
A traditional brew with a fascinating history, there are many places to try Pulque in Mexico city – from the small local breweries with Daft Punk dukeboxes to the central Pulque museum featuring Pulqueria restaurant. The plain Pulque tastes a bit like beer but apparently harbours the health benefits of Kombucha. For a more delicious flavour – opt for the Marzapan, Cinnamon, or Strawberry.
Pantheon of San Fernando
The burial place of some of Mexico’s most prominent residents is full of macabre stories and hidden masonic symbols. The cemetery is the final resting place of former president Benito Juárez and his wife Margarita Maza; Ignacio Zaragoza, the general credited with winning the Cinco de Mayo battle; Independence leader Vicente Guerrero; the famous soprano Henriette Sontag; and many others. The graveyard was closed to burials in 1872, and declared a museum in 2006.
Some of the entombed and embalmed have haunting stories surrounding their deaths. The corpse of the writer Francisco Zarco was stolen by a friend who brought it home to talk to. Or there’s Miguel Miramón, a general shot by the Juárez government, whose loving wife took his heart and exhibited it in a reliquary inside her bedroom. The place also has its fair share of ghost stories, such as the statue of Juan de la Granja which is said to move.
The most impressive part of the graveyard might be the hidden masonic symbols. Many of the deceased were Freemasons from different masonic lodges, and as such the tombs are decorated with pyramids, black and white mosaics, brackets, and compasses. A guided tour describes the many funerary art symbols seen throughout the cemetery. The museum is open to the public for free on the night of the last Wednesday of every month.
Pyramids of Tenayuca
On the outskirts of Mexico City stands the ruins of an ancient pyramid that is surrounded by what appears to be an army of stone serpents. Xolotl, a leader of the Chichimecas (“Barbarians” in Nahuatl) who settled at Tenayuca, built a fortified city here as a capital for his people. In subsequent generations, this centre lost much of its power and was moved to Tetzcoco. As a settlement of now secondary importance, Tenayuca experienced a second wave of invasion by a coalition of other Chichimeca tribes in the late 1200s. After the site came under Aztec control, an elaborate pyramid complex was constructed.
A series of stone coatepantlis (serpent walls) was made to surround the base of the pyramid. Archeologists believe the Aztecs may have been inspired by those at the Toltec city of Tula, where these structures first appeared. This imitation may have served as either a homage to the great power of Central Mexico that had preceded their own, or as a visual symbol to legitimise their own rule as rightful “heirs” to the Toltec mantle of empire.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area in 1519, they dubbed it “El Pueblo de los Serpientes” (“The Town of the Serpents”). The Spaniards defeated the city’s native inhabitants in 1520. In the long centuries that followed, Tenayuca was forgotten and became covered by layers of sediment. In the 1920s, a renewed interest by professional archeologists in Mexico’s pre-Columbian past led to the site’s excavation.
Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada
Psychedelic murals coat the inside of a nondescript research library. It was the Russian-Mexican artist Vladimir Víktorovich Kibálchich Rusakov (aka Vlady) that painted the 21,527 square foot (2,000 square meters) murals that cover the walls of this former 18th-century baroque church and theatre. Entitled La Revolución y los Elementos, the murals are arguably some of the most lysergic representations of revolution ever committed to art, and take the muralismo movement to a completely different dimension.
Vlady began painting the chapel in the 1970s. At first, he painted a psychedelic mural of Freud and the sexual revolution, then moved into explorations of other revolutionary ideas and movements, from the musical revolution to upstarts throughout the Americas. Over the decade he worked on the mural, he painted revolutionaries at the Bastille, Jesus, and even himself. The textured details throughout are astonishing too: Vlady once described taking a full day to paint a 20-inch (50cm) section of the wall, armed with a brush bearing just four bristles. While the library is open to the public, it’s an active research institution, so be mindful of people working when you visit.
Cafebrería El Péndulo
Part bookstore, part café, and part forest – these stores will stir up your imagination, or at least give you something to look at as you stir your coffee. Common items for sale include new titles or reprints of older books in both Spanish and English alongside music (CD and vinyl) sealed in plastic wrap. Designer items with Mexican and literary themes – porcelain luchador-themed salt and pepper shakers, or plush toys of William Shakespeare for example – are abundant on the stores’ gift sections. Don’t expect to find old, rare books or to have to dig through dusty crates of trash and treasure in these chic establishments.
CDMX Food Favourites
Mexico has an incredible array of bars and restaurants from world renowned spots to hidden local gems. For example Handshake Speakeasy was recently voted one of the top 3 bars in the world and sits round the corner from the Telephone Bar at Hotel Geneve – which serves an amazing Mexican Eggnog, Rompope. Other notable spots are the vast array of coffee bars such as Moa, Freims, Constela, Blend Station or Haab which are great for nomads looking to get work done; as well as the black bean tamal breakfasts at the Panadería; late nights with Bar Las Brujas, Cafe Nadie and Tacobar; late brunches at Lardo, Melina and Kinfolk; and local gem – La Tecla with its high quality servings of bone marrow stew and fresh fish.
A jaw-dropping “megalibrary” that turns book-browsing into a geometric adventure. Located in the Buenavista area in the north of Mexico City, the massive Biblioteca Vasconcelos was designed by Alberto Kalach and completed in 2007 after three consecutive years of building. Situated among lush gardens and covering an area of over 38,000 square meters, this temple of knowledge is generally referred to as a “megalibrary” both for its size and the undeniable sense of import conveyed by the structure itself.
Transparent walls, stories of intentionally mismatched floors, and intricate networks of balconies and paths between replicating stacks let visitors literally get lost in the worlds contained within the books themselves. This library resembles something from a short story by the Argentinian magical realist author Jorge Luis Borges. It seems like it would be easy to lose yourself in the Biblioteca Vasconcelos. Because just like the non-textual world, in a megalibrary the options are endless. Choose wisely.
Soumaya and Jumex Museums
Housing 66,000 pieces of predominantly Central American and European art, the Soumaya Museum was donated and constructed entirely by one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim Helú. Towering over a plaza in Northern Mexico City, the Soumaya Museum covers 170,000 square feet and elegantly glides into the skyline over six stories. Opened in 2011, the shiny ethereal building cost $70 million to build, and resulted in a chic complex of galleries accessible through a narrow entrance in the building’s front.
Quite fittingly, considering the magical appearance of the museum, it was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and founder of the magical realist literary movement, who cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony. Although the museum was a donation from Carlos Slim, each part of its construction was an inside job. His son in law, Fernando Romero, designed the massive structure and the exterior is covered in 16,000 hexagonal aluminium tiles from an aluminium plant Carlos Slim owns. The entire structure coyly enriches Mexico City’s cultural landscape while padding the pockets of the museum’s benefactor.
While the modern architecture of the Soumaya Museum has drawn praise for its ingenuity and partnership with Frank Gehry, many have also derided the building as an eyesore. One critic even went as far as to attack Carlos Slim, saying that money can buy everything, except taste. Worth an estimated $65 billion, it’s at least nice to see Carlos Slim give a little back to his country. A museum is certainly a better way to spend your billions than writing your name in the sand of a private island. The Soumaya is located in the upmarket district of Polanco, which is also home to the Museo Jumex – a private collection of contemporary pieces with relaxing cafe bar.
The Mummies at Museo de El Carmen
Twelve natural mummies are displayed in the crypt of this former monastery school. Built between 1615 and 1628 by Carmelite friars, the building that used to house the monastery school now contains a collection of Colonial religious art. In the crypt below the school you can find 12 mummified bodies of former parishioners. The bodies were left in the crypt after the school secularised and was finally abandoned in 1861. Due to soil conditions the bodies dehydrated and naturally mummified.
The mummies were discovered by members of the Liberation Army of the South looking for monastic treasures during the Revolution. The soldiers left the mummies in place, but left the crypt uncovered. Over the following years, the bodies were rediscovered by people secretly exploring the decrepit building and became famous among the locals. In 1929 the mummies were placed in the velvet-lined wood and glass caskets that are still in use today. In 2012, the crypt was fully restored and opened to the public.
Pyramid of Ehécatl
The ruins of an ancient temple to the Aztec wind god discovered in the middle of a metro station. Unearthed from the rubble and dust accumulated over the centuries, the structure was eventually identified as being the only surviving remnant of a temple complex dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehécatl. The circular and mound-like shape of the pyramid is believed to be a reference to a coiled snake.
The god of the wind was conceived by the ancient Aztecs as a manifestation of a much more powerful and central deity, the plumed serpent god and creator of mankind, Quetzalcoatl. Today, you can see and appreciate this mysterious ancient shrine right from the bustling passageways of the Pino Suárez Metro Station that surrounds it on all sides, juxtaposing Mexico City’s dizzying modernity with the antiquity of its Aztec past. Be sure to stop and take a breather and, fittingly, savour the breeze that blows from above.
Santuario Nacional del Angel de la Santa Muerte and Cafeteria Gerrado Mayela
A church dedicated to the Mexican skeleton saint. The Santa Muerte Sanctuary is one of the most important landmarks for those who worship “The Bony Lady.” Three times a week, believers gather in the modest Bravo Street church to attend ceremonies deviated from Catholic mass. La Santa Muerte is probably the most popular idol in Mexico after Santa Maria de Guadalupe – an attention condemned by the Vatican, who sees the reverence for the skeleton saint as blasphemous (or ‘satan’).
Suspiciously seen as associated with drug trades and criminality, the Santa Muerte is the idol of the destitute, the one who lost hope and is outcast by the Catholic Church. The church itself contains a large statue of La Santa Muerte alongside the main altar. In 2007, David Romo, the Bishop of the Chapel, replaced it on the actual altar with a dressed mannequin, the Angel de La Santa Muerte, to avoid a too-macabre association with criminal acts. The place is a little run down but worth a glance, and there are signs highlighting the extra fees for any kind of photo / altar piece.
By contrast, just 10 minutes down the road sits an unassuming café called Cafeteria Gerrado Mayela – dedicated to Saints. I stumbled across this cafe-library-museum while seeking shelter from the weekend crowds in the historical city centre. It serves a variety of fruit smoothies with chilli straws alongside tabletop games ranging from Jenga to Solitaire.
College San Il De Fonso
The Colegio de San Ildefonso is a museum and cultural centre in Mexico City, considered the birthplace of the Mexican muralism movement. What began life as a prestigious Jesuit boarding school, gained educational prestige after the Reform War. Reopened as a museum and cultural centre in 1992, it has permanent and temporary art and archeological exhibitions, in addition to the many murals painted on its walls by José Clemente Orozco, Fernando Leal, Diego Rivera, and others.
The exhibition I attended here was by Sergio Hernández – featuring cave art-like depictions of communities that blend the boundaries between man and beast. Works gathered in this exhibition presented his distinct style within a diverse range of techniques, such as engraved wood and sands on linen, as well as frescoes, oil paintings, graphics, mixed media and plumbs. Their stories ranged from omens announcing the arrival of strangers coming from the sea, to a reinterpretation of the codices of conquest, and large tables depicting the tragic and grotesque representations of dreams, nightmares and visions.
Skull Rack of the Great Temple
A disquieting Aztec sculpture displays hundreds of stone skulls representing the victims of human sacrifice. The tzompantli as it was known to the Aztecs, served three simple yet terrifying social purposes in several Mesoamerican civilisations: to publicly display the skulls of sacrificial victims, to honour the gods to whom the victims were sacrificed, and to showcase the military might and power of the emperor and empire.
Two types of skull racks were used at Aztec religious sites. One was made purely from stone featuring symbolically carved skulls, like the one at the Great Temple. The other was typically much larger and made of wood, which displayed real human skulls to drive the point home. The wooden tzompantli with human skulls were enormous and imposing, notoriously shocking the Spanish conquistadors when they first encountered the Aztec people. One skull wall is estimated to have been nearly 200 feet long and 100 feet wide at its peak. It would have been able to display tens of thousands of skulls, giving a chilling look at the sacrificial rituals of the ancient civilisation. This sits right by the historical town centre, where you can wander out into crowds saged by billowing smoke from the queues waiting for treatments by the local ‘witch doctors.’
Museo del Juguete Antiguo México
Displaying over 20,000 playthings from the early 20th century, Mexico’s Museo del Juguete Antiguo México (Old Toy Museum of Mexico) gives curious visitors an alternate history of the country’s culture, told exclusively through its toys. Anyone looking for a typical museum with ordered cases and rows of labeled objects may be in for a shock at Kinoshita’s collection. His is more of an explosive celebration of toys and childhood than a scholarly exercise in trinket history.
A recent addition to the museum is the creation of a street art “speakeasy” on the rooftop. It is called a speakeasy due to the fact that it is not open unless a special request is made at the front desk for access. It not only affords visitors an opportunity to view some paintings by a mix of very talented Mexican and international artists, but includes a bonus rooftop view of the surrounding neighbourhood.
More than the toys, the main attraction here are the modern, psychedelic murals which cover the entirety of the building from top to bottom and inside-out.
The Sweets Section at Mercado de la Merced
The largest market in Mexico City has everything from piles of fresh mole, to a surprisingly large shoe section, and insect delicacies such as crunchy chapulines and creamy escamoles. But if you navigate beyond the aroma of dangling peppers, past the sounds of butchers slicing meat for succulent tacos de cabeza and men playing games in one of the many mini arcades, you’ll find yourself in a Willy Wonka-esque wonderland of all things sweet.
The sprawling section is a feast for the senses. Multicoloured piñatas and lollipops dangle overhead, while aromas of citrus, sugar, and spice waft from stalls. There’s a treat for every palate: Baskets overflow with homemade coconut-stuffed limes, peanut brittle (palanqueta), sticks of creamy, caramel-filled dulce de leche, and chilli or sugar-coated tamarind balls. Many of the offerings, from bright candied fruit to boxes of commercial sweets, are stacked in tantalising mountains.
La Rifa Chocolatería
The hot chocolate here all stems from small, sustainable micro-producers in Chiapas and Tabasco. At La Rifa Chocolatería, every aspect of the supply chain is traceable and transparent. Ask where the honey, unrefined piloncillo sugar, or, of course, cacao nibs come from and the staff here can rattle off not only its micro-region and village of origin, but also the names of the producers who made it.
Impeccable sourcing is just one part of the equation here. Reza and Lozano draw on Mexico’s ancient history with these beans. Mesoamerican people from the Olmecs to the Mayans and Aztecs fermented and ground cacao into a frothy beverage. Cacao pots have been found in Mayan tombs and according to some records, a woman needed to prove her mettle with cacao-making in order to be considered a desirable bride.
Worm salt and other local ingredients are on the menu at this cult favourite ice cream shop. The Cempasúchil, flame-coloured marigolds that the Aztecs once used to honour a goddess of death, are inescapable in Mexico City each October. Millions of the blossoms make their way into garlands in preparation for Día de los Muertos. On November 1, most of these fragrant flowers will wind up on the graves of loved ones. But each year, a few are set aside for a very different purpose: ice cream.
José Luis Cervantes, the owner of Joe Gelato, says it tastes almost like you mixed chamomile with vanilla. Though he cut his teeth as a chef at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, many of the flavours here cannot be found anywhere else. On any given day, the unconventional lineup might include peach with sal de gusano (worm salt), tamarind and mezcal, the herb hoja santa, black garlic, or Oaxacan chocolate with guajillo or ancho chiles.
For flavours incorporating stouts, lagers, and ales, Cervantes turns to local craft microbrewery Monstruo de Agua Cervecería. A dark, dairy-free, cacao ice cream and a rich, fruity olive oil ice cream are two of the only constant menu items. Cervantes works with small batches, and he’s not afraid to get experimental – fans know to keep an eye out for the black garlic when it appears.
Centro de Cultura Digital
Beneath the most controversial monument in Mexico City is a cultural centre that exhibits only digital art. In 2010, The “Estela De Luz” (Stela of Light) was inaugurated as the commemorative monument of the bicentennial of Mexican independence. But when a newspaper report revealed the exorbitant total cost of the project, around 1 billion pesos, it was deemed to be far too high for a tower covered in marble and lights, and the monument instead became a symbol synonymous with Mexican corruption.
After the scandalous cost was revealed, an attempt was made to redefine the work by adding a Digital Culture Centre, which currently operates in the basement. The centre has seven spaces dedicated to different aspects of digital art: literature, games, communication, immersion, web lab, education, and free technologies. Its mission is to exhibit only digital art, and currently does so out of separate spaces dedicated to exhibition and immersion. The most immersive is the huge white gallery in the basement that is completely illuminated by coloured lights.
Despite the fact that the exhibitions are interesting, the stigma of the place did not prevent several civil organisations from converting the exterior plaza into a sidewalk tribute to the political and criminal disappearances of the 2006-2012 presidential administration. On the sidewalk, small metal plates show the names and histories of some of the people who disappeared during those years.
Despite its official name, it is better-known today as “La Suavicrema” after its resemblance to a local brand of cream wafer cookies. This site is undoubtedly a complex cultural space and although art critics and most of the general public consider it a horrific monument, today it is part of one of the city’s financial districts, signalling the entrance to Bosque de Chapultepec.
National Autonomous University Mural
The side of the Faculty of Medicine building at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is home to a highly symbolic mural created by artist Francisco Eppens in 1951, at the behest of the university. The mural is encircled almost protectively by a rattlesnake, its forked tongue flickering between its fangs. The mid section of this gigantic serpent is shown to have burst into flames, as tendrils of smoke rise from its core. The snake serves as both a reference to the ancient Greek-derived symbol of medicine, the Caduceus staff, and the ancient Egyptian-Mesopotamian concept of the Ouroboros and infinity. But most of all, this enormous snake symbolises the Earth Mother Goddess of the Aztec civilisation, Cōātlīcue.
Cōātlīcue was believed to have given birth to the earth itself, and just like the Earth, this deity possessed a striking duality. The goddess could be both a loving mother, creating and nurturing life, but she was also a devourer and destroyer of human existence through natural disasters. In the context of the mural, she signifies creation and the inception of life, fertility, and fecundity, but also the dangers and risks inherent to being alive and mortal.
Beneath the scaled belly of this sacred snake, you can see three mysterious golden creatures in flight. These are meant to represent winged animals that were once revered by the Aztecs: the swallowtail butterfly, the king vulture, and the golden eagle. This aspect of the mural symbolically represents the element of air (yohualli). The central image of the mural shows a three-faced mask on a red background. This image is in fact meant to represent both the universal human condition and the national emergence of mestizaje in Mexico. This was the racial and ethnic mix of the indigenous Pre-Hispanic people with the Spanish colonisers.
Two gigantic hands float above the mask – one of which carries pollen and the other a seed. This detail represents the element of fire (tetl), which many Pre-Hispanic civilisations believed was a symbol of the unity of opposites and duality. Two humongous hands allude to the role that the controlled use of fire plays in agriculture. Below the central element of fire, you’ll see a skull that appears to be devouring a cob of maize. This symbolises the Earth (Tlalli) and the human life cycle from birth to death. Humankind’s connection to the earth and dependency on its plants for food, medicine, shelter, and clothing is alluded to by four symbolic plants: the maguey, maize, the nopal cactus, and the cotton plant.
Rising from underneath the skull is the phantasmagorical visage of Tlaloc. This deity represents the element of water (atl) and is surrounded by four animal denizens of his aquatic realm: the axolotl salamander, the water snail, the leopard frog, and the diminutive but delicious charal fish.
The Disk of Death
This strange sculpture of a menacing skull surrounded by sun rays was discovered at the foot of the Pyramid of the Sun. As you walk through the galleries of the Teotihuacan exhibit in Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, your eyes may be instantly drawn in the direction of a manifestly morbid sculpture. In front of you stands a slate disk depicting a huge grinning skull, its sightless eyes glaring malevolently while a long protruding red tongue lolls from its maw. But perhaps most strangely of all, it is surrounded by what appears at first glance to be an elaborate halo, oddly reminiscent of a Catholic saint.
Although we can never know for sure what this enigmatic sculpture meant to the lost civilisation of Teotihuacan, the location of its discovery might offer some clues as to its symbolic meaning. In 1964, during an extensive archeological excavation of Teotihuacan, the disk was dug from the area directly in front of the famous Pyramid of the Sun, (the third-largest pyramid in the world) by a team of astonished archeologists. The discovery soon made international news and the sculpture was moved to the newly inaugurated National Museum of Anthropology, which had opened that year, for public display.
Archeologists believe the sculpture’s “halo” may allude to the setting and rising of the Sun, as the change from day into night was perceived by many Mesoamerican civilisations to be the cycle of the death and rebirth of the solar system. The symbolic meaning of the skull imagery itself is more difficult to identify, but it is thought that it may allude to the ritual practice of human sacrifice or be a representation of the Teotihuacan god of death, Mictlantecuhtli.
It also may be that this “disk of death” was somehow connected to human sacrifices made around the construction of the Pyramid of the Sun. Based on the presence and location of burial sites, it seems that the sacrifice of humans and animals was practiced during the construction of buildings. This occurred perhaps as offerings to appease the gods to secure both material prosperity and safety from the region’s frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Displayed in the entrance hall of the National Museum of Anthropology, this mural confronts the observant visitor with the depiction of a fierce fight between a snarling jaguar and a hissing serpent. The battling beasts represent the Aztec concept of the perennial duality of life and death, day and night, creation and destruction.
The mural often goes unnoticed by visitors eager to see the archaeological treasures of the museum, but it’s worth pausing a moment to contemplate this enigmatic piece. Created in 1964 by the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo for the opening of the museum, the mural is known simply as “Dualidad” (“Duality”), drawing on the rich mythology of the Aztecs and modern Mexican folklore.
The jaguar represents darkness and the bellicose god of the night and human sacrifice, Tezcatlipoca. The adversary of the big cat is a plumed serpent, representing light and day. It symbolises the venerable god of knowledge and creator of mankind, Quetzalcoatl. Celestial elements such as the Moon, the Sun, and constellations can be seen that reflect the cosmos, and contrasting colours create an eerie ambiance meant to represent the dawn and twilight. This was a symbolic time, during which the ancient peoples of Mexico believed the cosmic battle between day and night was fought.
In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were brothers and divine opposites who presided over the successive cycles of creation and destruction in the universe. The two were engaged in a constant and bloodthirsty sibling rivalry for cosmic supremacy, a rivalry that was believed to be the reason for the phenomena of night and day. Both gods were associated with animal counterparts. The jaguar with its nocturnal behaviour and spotted coat was believed to resemble the night sky, and was linked with Tezcatlipoca the god of the night, whereas the snake and its association with the daytime and the sun represented the life-giver and creative force of humankind.
Las Razas y La Cultura Mural
This stunning and ethereal mural symbolises the beauty, unity, and diversity of humankind. Another beguiling piece at the Museum of Anthropology is a mural titled “Las Razas y las Culturas” (“Races and Cultures”) by Jorge González Camarena. It is both a homage to human diversity and an artistic entreaty for unity and brotherhood. The mural was commissioned by the Mexican government in the early 1960s for the new anthropology museum, and was finally completed in 1964. The artwork was to be placed in the section of the museum dedicated to the history of the human species and the peoples of the Americas. In keeping with these themes, Camarena decided to create a mural that was an artistic celebration of the beauty found within Unity in Diversity.
The myriad cultures and races of the world are individually represented by 14 female goddesses, while the divinity in the centre of the mural represents the near future of humanity as a species that comprises a mixture of all cultures, heritages, and races. Just below the goddess of the near future is a cosmic child in a glowing womb, not yet born, which represents generations of humans in the distant future. On either side of this future goddess are the 14 muses, which from right to left symbolise the sub-Saharan African, Egyptian/North African, Mayan/Central American, indigenous South American, indigenous North American, Polynesian/Melanesian, Japanese/East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian/Indian, Arabian, Hellenic/Mediterranean, Iberian, and Celtic and Northern European peoples.
Beneath the muses are an assortment of artefacts symbolic of the great civilisations of history. These include Neolithic megaliths, northern European castle walls, a Viking helmet, a Hellenic Doric column, a Hindu elephant sculpture, a Persian bull column, Assyrian Lamassu, a Roman Corinthian pillar, an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic tablet, a Chinese dragon, a Celtic horse, a Polynesian Moai, an Incan kancha stonework, and an African Yoruba mask. At the very bottom of the mural are symbols of the domesticated plants that led to the development of agriculture, which has supported and sustained civilisations. These botanical symbols include staple crops like maize, wheat, barley, rice, cassava, potato, yams, taro, sugar beet, and sugar cane. Finally, on the far right side of the mural, are several skulls representing the evolution past of hominids.