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In Mexico City


A window to the world
 
The contributions resulting from the friendship and respect between Mexico and other countries, are fundamental for the collection.Steps away from Templo Mayor, Zócalo  and Metropolitan Cathedral, the colonial building that lodges the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH)  National Museum of Cultures.   This historical site is the former Mexico National Museum, the first museum of  Latin America.
 
Each of the pieces that conform the collection of the National Museum of Cultures, reflect the relevance of friendship and respect between fellow nations of the world, in  Mexico’s foreign affairs matters. As a result of this actions, the museum has received in donation more than 12,000 pieces of historical value, gifts from the governments all over the world.
 
In order to understand the National Museum of Cultures, one must remember it descends from the National Museum, considered as the mother and father of  several important cultural outreach sites, such as the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of History and the National Museum of Viceroyalty.
 
This museum is also important because the historic building that houses it. The Casa Denegrida, where Emperor Montezuma used to dialogue with the Mexica deities, was here.
 
Later, this was given to conqueror Hernan Cortes by the Spanish Crown as a part of his payment, becoming part of  his son’s heritage, who sold it to king Felipe V of Spain. From that moment, it became the Viceroy’s palace, and later, the Royal Treasury of New Spain.
 
The construction of this majestic building, settled in the number 13 of the Moneda street, Centro Histórico, ended in 1734, when it became the New Spain Royal Mint House.
 
Several government offices and schools occupied this building. Students attended the Etching School placed here, more than 25 years. This school would become part of the Three Arts School, and later , of the Academia de San Carlos. The National Supreme Court office was also here, an so were the Ministry of Interior Affairs and  the National Graphic Workshops.
 
The National Museum lack of space resulted in the donation of its Natural History collection to the recently created Chopo Museum, in 1909. Then pieces of great cultural value, like the Coatlicue and the Piedra del Sol, or Sun Calendar, could be admired. The building also lodged the National School of History and Anthropology.
 
During the thirties, the National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography was in this colonial building. It was then when the great Rufino Tamayo painted The Revolution, a fresco technique mural, on this walls. This work relates to the fall of Porfirio Diaz, the Mexican dictator, and is one of the few paintings where he represented this period of the Mexican history. He used to work at this museum in the Ethnographic drawing department, in 1921.
 
A different museum
 
National Institute of History and Anthropology, INAH, has in custody 113 museums all over the country; but only the National Museum of Cultures holds pieces that teach us about history and other ways of life around the world.
 
Its subject is international Anthropology. The halls exhibit archaeological, historical an ethnographical collections that make this museum a unique place in Latin America, and can be compared to Louvre  in Paris, in terms of the nature of the objects it houses.
 
The difference between the Mexico National Museum of Cultures and other museums, is the way the objects are obtained: “The great museums of the world have wonderful collections, but as a result of   plundering of other nations” says Gema Becerril, vice director of  the museum.
 
Professor Humberto Medina, who is in charge of the Cultural Outreach Aea of the museum, adds that the pieces arrived as a result of the international rapprochement policies between Mexico and its fellow countries. He insists that the build up of this collection is very different than the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s, The British Museum’s, or the Berlin Museum’s.
 
This is why the origin of the National Museum of Cultures’ collection is “the best”, because the pieces arrived as donations, or as loans. Here, we find ethnological objects such as textiles, glass, porcelain and ceramic figures, pottery, photographs, armors, kimonos, masks, jewelry, Greco Roman weapons and sculptures, among others.
 
Many of them are originals, and in some cases, ancient pieces. There are high quality replicas, too, like the plaster cast Greek statues.
 
Exhibit Halls’ Updating Process
 
Sixteen exhibit halls conform the National Museum of Cultures, plus three temporary exhibition halls. Since the collection refers to international Anthropology, it is important to update the museology constantly, as it has been done.
 
This updating process includes the building’s structural adaptations as well as the collection’s themes. This is why some of the exhibit halls are closed to the public. The areas that are being dismantled did no longer respond to the needs or characteristics of the world, such as the geopolitical changes suffered by countries like the USSR, Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia.
 
“A museum that refers to the cultures of the world must be in permanent renewal, in order to be kept alive”, quoted Gema Becerril. In order to do this, the museological scripts are being updated, since some of them are decades old, and the current reality of some countries has changed.
 
Visiting the National Museum of Cultures we can explore America or Africa through their history, and discover facts of countries such as Korea, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (Burma), or places like New Ireland, New Caledonia, Vanuatu (formerly called New Hebrides), or Samoa, all islands located in the South Pacific Ocean.
 
An interdisciplinary group of specialists are digitalizing the registers. They describe the objects and verify the collections in order to keep the records up to date. This group is conformed by historians, archaeologists, ethnologists, and computer technicians. They take pictures of every piece, and determine its origin and state of conservation.
 
Researchers and academics will be able to rely on the catalogue’s information to compose and complement their investigations, just as students of all levels to do their homework.
 
Historic Site
 
The National Museum of Cultures is a colonial building declared national monument in 1931. Architect Juan Peinado was in charge of its construction, held between 1731 and 1734. As it lodged the Viceroyalty Mint House, the name of the street was changed to Moneda, formerly called del Arzobispado (Archbishopric).
 
This building began working as a place for cultural outreach on December 5th, 1865, when the Museo Nacional opened its doors, although the museum started in 1825. Since then and until now, it is considered the alma mater of all Mexican museums.
 
Guadalupe Victoria and Lucas Alamán conceived in 1835 the Public Museum of Natural History, Archaeology and History, though Maximiliano de Habsburgo made the formal opening on July 6th, 1866.
 
The scientific development made the collections grow, and the Natural History Department moved to Chopo Museum on 1909.
 
The Moneda street building changed its name to National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography.
 
On 1939 the President moved out from the Castillo de Chapultepec, and it became the new National Museum of History, causing another movement of the collections that ended on 1944.
 
The National Museum of Anthropology was able to exhibit the great monoliths that were stored due to the lack of space. It remained near the Zócalo until 1964, when the current National Museum of Anthropology building was finished. A lot of prehispanic pieces left the Moneda street site in order to occupy the new Chapultepec Museum.
 
One of the most memorable moves was when the Sun Calendar, or Piedra del Sol, left the building that housed it since 1885. Hundreds of people watched the also known as Calendario Azteca monolith, as it made its way to Chapultepec across Mexico City, on 1964.
 
Finally, the National Museum of Cultures opened its doors on December 5th 1965. Since then, the purpose of the museum is the exhibition of foreign objects from all over the world.
 
Gathering of works
 
The first art collections that the museum received were gifts of fellow governments. These donations made the heritage grow. At the present moment, twelve thousand pieces conform it.
 
The most recent donation to the museum was made on May, by the Vietnam Government. They are four Mother-of-pearl and lacquer boards, which represent the struggle of four women defending from the China invasion. 
 
The museological cards are yet being composed, and the exhibit hall where it will be placed is still to be defined, but they will be exhibited soon.
 
The National Museum of Cultures has a library and a bookstore, well maintained gardens, and a fountain in the patio.
 
The west wing of the building, adjacent to Palacio Nacional, is under construction, in order to enlarge the exhibition area. This zone used to be an auditorium until 1920, belonging to Defense, Treasury and Development Ministries. It was returned to the museum nine years ago.
 
Around the world
 
Visitors decide the best way to look around, although, there is a suggested route. The first exhibit hall relates to Prehistory and the biological and cultural evolution of the humankind. The layout suggests that it was in Africa, five million years ago, where the development of humanity began.
 
The pre-Columbian pieces, both from Mesoamerica and the Andes, are displayed at the American Hall.
 
The Mesopotamian Hall explains that a Neolithic civilization rose there about seven thousand years ago, and exhibits pieces from the Neobabilonian Empire, which goes back to 625 B.C. The history of the Egyptian Empire is illustrated with objects related to the pyramids and Pharaohs. Israeli objects represent the Jewish people’s history, between 8500 B.C. and 70 A.C.
 
The exhibition hall related to Greece and Rome is also on the ground floor. It holds full sized plaster cast replicas.
 
Chinese traditional foot deformation for women is represented, among objects that show the cultural riches of this country.  Japanese pieces, like kimonos, porcelain pottery, jade sculptures, Samurai armors, and Korean Holy Scriptures woodcuts are in exhibition, as well as works of great cultural value from Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.
 
The pieces shown at the African Hall, such as masks and woodcarvings, reflect the riches of the Sub Saharan cultures.
 
The Eskimo culture has a place here, too. They developed hunting techniques, and original ways to create Totems and masks.
 
 Open doors
 
Those who visit the National Museum of Culture have the chance to learn more about the way people live around the world. Every hall reflects different ways of thinking and expressing, leading to a better understanding of humankind, and promoting respect to all forms of civilization.
 
At the former Mint Building, courses and workshops are offered to people of all ages, like embroidery, origami, bookbinding, and codex interpretation, among others.
 
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:30 to 18:00. There is no entrance fee.