By Carole Reedy
Perhaps Mexico City’s greatest gift to tourists is diversity, represented in its people, food, culture, and architecture. No matter how often one visits, each trip presents an unexpected joy, whether it is a new restaurant, art exhibit, or a chance to delve into the architectural face of the city.
Here are some buildings for exploration during your next visit. For those of us who live here, as well as for visitors, a stroll through the various colonias (neighborhoods) of the city can offer hours of discovery into new worlds through architecture. A sampling of popular buildings that you may have overlooked, as well as some hidden gems, follows.
Diegos Rivera’s Museo Anahuacalli
Museo 150, San Pablo de Tepetlapa Coyoacán
After 13 years of living in Mexico’s multifaceted capital and many previous years of visits, I finally took advantage one Sunday afternoon to explore this highly respected museum.
You may think, as I did, of Diego Rivera as Mexico’s finest artist and muralist, but this misconception proves the short-sightedness of our vision. He has proven to be a distinguished architect in addition to his artistic aesthetic. In 1945, Rivera visualized and began building this unique museum and art center to house his personal collection. He collaborated with the Mexican architect Juan O’ Gorman. Unfortunately, the project depleted Rivera’s finances, and was not finished until 1964. Rivera had died in 1957, but O’Gorman worked with other Mexican architects, including Heriberto Pegalson and Rivera’s daughter Ruth, to complete the main exhibition building and four secondary structures by 1964.
The name Anahuacalli is Nahuatl for “house surrounded by water.” The museum is made of lava rock produced from the eruption of Xitle in the southern part of Mexico City around 245-315 AD. It houses Diego Rivera’s collection and obsession: Pre-Columbian art and artifacts. There are over 2000 pieces of his collection (of almost 40,000) on permanent display in the museum. His first wife claimed that Diego was always exploring, always with his eyes on the ground in order to discover new finds.
On the second floor of the museum, 16 sketches of his famous murals are on display. In addition, the entire property is dedicated to artistic and cultural pursuits, such as a dance studio, a library, workshops, and lots of space for ecological enjoyment. The Museo Anahuacalli was expanded in 2021 with the addition of three new spaces – a central storage facility for museum holdings and two additional multipurpose buildings designed by modernist architecture firm Taller Mauricio Rocha.
The Museums of Chapultepec Park
Paseo de la Reforma
Chapultepec Park, a work of art itself, is not just a relaxing and enjoyable place to spend a day; it is filled with culture provided by the several museums that are scattered along Reforma Avenue.
Museo de Antropología: Perhaps the most popular cultural center in Mexico, the museum is divided into 22 salas, each with concentration on the different eras of culture, such as that of Oaxaca, the Aztecs, the Maya, Toltecs, etc. You need days to see the entire museum, so don’t make the mistake of trying to do it in one afternoon. I suggest doing one section at a time!
The large fountain in the entrance adds a relaxing background to the busy environment inside each area.
Museo del Arte Moderno: This is one of my favorite museums in the city. There are only four main rooms for exhibitions, but they provide ample space for viewing. A sculpture garden behind the museum provides a relaxing rest area. Some of the best exhibitions in the world have been housed here.
Museo Tamayo: Recent renovations and a variety of contemporary art make this a must on everyone’s list. Artist Rufino Tamayo, the museum’s founder (along with Diego Rivera, José Orozco, and David Siqueiros), brought the 20th-century muralist movement to the art world’s attention. Tamayo’s distinct pre-Hispanic style is evident in all his works.
The museum houses exhibitions of varying styles as well as Tamayo’s own works.
The famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had an exhibition here several years ago that stunned the city. The museum kept its doors open 24 hours a day the last few weeks of the show due to the increasing demand for tickets. The only other occurrence of such an insatiable ticket demand was for a Pablo Picasso exhibition at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Castillo de Chapultepec: Chapultepec Castle overlooks the entire city, nestled atop the park in all its glory. The castle’s history starts in 1530 when Charles I of Spain began appropriating the properties from the Aztecs.
Over the past 500 years, various changes have taken place, but one of the most memorable is during the 19th century when the Emperor Maximillian and his wife Carlotta lived in the castle for his short reign (1863-1867) until Mexicans, tired of foreign interference, executed the monarch. You can view the many rooms Maximillian and Carlotta occupied and used for daily living. In the past, the castle also has been a military academy and a presidential home.
The Castle also hosts lovely gardens and the National Museum of History (the latter since 1941), offering visitors the opportunity to reflect on Mexico’s often violent, yet ever-changing, history.
You will want to have your camera ready, not just for the beauty of the castle but for the panoramic views of the entire city, as well as the statues of the Niños Heroes. And don’t miss the stained glass windows of the goddesses on the second floor of the garden area.
Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes
Centro Histórico, Avenidas Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas
I can’t pass up an opportunity to mention my favorite building in the city, and perhaps the world. No matter the number of times I have visited this architectural wonder, my heart literally skips a beat each time I stroll down Avenida Juárez from Paseo de la Reforma to see the Art Nouveau and Neoclassical exterior in its majestic glory at the end of the Alameda (centro historico’s famous park).
The building itself is made of Italian marble. Construction started in 1904 but was delayed due to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, as well as social and economic problems. It was completed in the 1930s.
The Art Deco interior houses murals by Mexican artists Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Siqueiros. Yearly, many temporary art exhibits occupy the four stories. There is an architecture museum on the top floor.
Concerts and operas are staged in the lovely main theater, as well as in intimate side salas. As in the city as a whole, prices for the entertainment are reasonable and affordable, even in these days of inflation. All museums in the city offer free admission to everyone on Sundays.
Rio Churubusco 601, Xoco
The complex, created by Pelli Clarke & Partners, a U.S. firm that works internationally, contains the tallest building in Mexico City, a brand-new skyscraper that tops off at 267 meters (about 875 feet). It was inaugurated in September of 2022. Residents of the building will enjoy the spa and pool, area for children and entertainment, as well as ample parking facilities.
The commercial complex, with its five levels of popular shops, is built “to create a sense of connection, linking diverse spaces where people can gather to socialize, be entertained, relax, and enjoy a variety of cuisine. Guided by Mexico’s lively color palette, and visual themes from indigenous architectural and textile traditions, we wove color and form with function to create pedestrian-friendly plazas and avenues, joining commercial-retail spaces to residential and office towers. Patterns and colors inspired by Aztec culture appear and reappear, flowing along concrete walkways and retail facades.”
The center itself has suffered a backlash from local residents. They have cited, beyond traffic-flow problems, the extreme usage of water for a building complex of such proportion.
If you are not too tired after a visit to the center and a bit of shopping, you easily can make your way to the charming Centro of neighboring Coyoacán.
Telcel Plaza Carso
One can’t discuss the architecture of the buildings in CDMX (Ciudad of Mexico: the city is no longer referred to as DF or Distrito Federal) without a mention of the spectacular Museo Soumaya in Plaza Carso. It was created and funded by by Carlos Slim Helú, astute businessman of Mexico City and owner of communications companies Telmex and Telcel. The purpose of the museum is to share the collection of the Carlos Slim Foundation. It is a homage to his late wife Soumaya Domit, who died in 1999. The doors to the museum opened in March 2011. (The original Museo Soumaya is located in Plaza Loreto, opened in 1994, has five permanent and two temporary galleries, and frequently collaborates with Museo Soumaya in Plaza Carso. The museum shares Plaza Loreto with a shopping center located in a restored historic site, some of which dates to the 16th century, and is worth a visit in itself.)
Mexican architect Fernando Romero, Slim’s son-in-law, designed Museo Soumaya in Plaza Carso. The building’s six stories are connected with a unique spiral staircase. The exterior, which is covered by 16,000 aluminum hexagons covering 17,000 square meters, is unique to the city.
Inside you will find art to suit your taste. From Dalí to Van Gogh and Monet to Rodin, the museum contains art from many centuries and countries, with an emphasis on Art from Europe and the Americas. The Chinese ivory collection, however, is one of the areas that stands out in my memory.
The museum is open 365 days of the year and is free to everyone, every day. We are thankful to Slim and his Foundation for this generous gift to the city and the world.
This has been just a smattering of the hundreds of architectural wonders of this most famous megalopolis. Enjoy the entire city over several visits; we have almost perfect weather conditions all year long!