Even though I am once again in the snow and cold of Ohio, I will continue to write posts about places that I have visited on previous trips.
One place that I have visited numerous times in Mexico City is Chapultepec Castle. Today it is the National Museum of History. It is located in Chapultepec Park (known in Spanish as "el Bosque de Chapultepec" - "the Forest of Chapultepec"). The park is the most important in Mexico City, and is considered one of the great urban parks of the world. At one time the area was forested countryside some distance from Mexico City. Now the city surrounds the park on all sides.
The park is named after an outcropping of volcanic rock which the Aztecs called Grasshopper Hill. (In the Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, "chapul" means grasshopper and "tepec" means hill.) The Aztecs considered the hill to be sacred, and the forests surrounding it were reserved for the Aztec nobility.
During the Spanish colonial period, plans were made to build a summer retreat on the hill for the viceroy, the king's appointed governor of the colony. Construction was begun in 1775, but the palace was never occupied by the viceroy. There were also plans to use the building as the general archive of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, but that never came to fruition either.
Chapultepec Castle atop the hill
After Mexico won its independence from Spain the building sat unoccupied for over a decade. In 1833 the Colegio Militar (the Mexican equivalent of our West Point) was established at Chapultepec Castle. The building was renovated and a watchtower was added. In 1847, during the war between Mexico and the United States, the invading American army approached Mexico City. One of the final battles of the war was fought at Chapultepec as the cadets of the military academy tried to halt the invaders' march to the capital. Six of the teenaged cadets died in the battle. They are now revered as "Los Niños Héroes", the Boy Heroes. One of the young soldiers, Juan Escutia, is said to have wrapped himself in the Mexican flag, and committed suicide by throwing himself from the castle tower rather than surrender. (That story, however, is now generally dismissed as legend by historians.)
An impressive monument in honor of the Boy Heroes stands at the foot of Chaputepec Hill.
A dramatic mural painting on a ceiling in the castle shows Juan Escutia plunging to his
death during the Battle of Chapultepec.
In 1861 the army of Napoleon III of France invaded Mexico. The French emperor, wishing to emulate his famous uncle, sought to expand France's empire in the Western Hemisphere. The French were aided by Mexican conservatives who despised the liberal policies of the legal President, Benito Juárez. After the French had taken control of much of the country, Napoleon convinced Archduke Maximilian of Austria to take the title of Emperor of Mexico. (Napoleon was seeking to legitimize his invasion, and planned to use Maximilian as his puppet.)
In 1864, Maximilian and his wife Carlota, arrived in Mexico, and were crowned Emperor and Empress of Mexico. They chose Chapultepec Castle to be their residence. The building was thoroughly renovated in a neo-classical style, and lavishly furnished.
The entrance to Chapultepec Castle
Several rooms of the castle contain the furnishings which belonged to Maximilian and Carlota. In the second picture, on the rear wall, you can see a portrait of Empress Carlota.
Another addition made to the castle during their reign was this roof garden.
Since the castle was at that time on the outskirts of the city, Maximilian had a broad boulevard constructed to connect his residence with the center of the city. That boulevard is today one of the city's major thoroughfares, and was later renamed the Paseo de la Reforma, in honor of the reform laws of President Benito Juárez.
In this view from the terrace of the castle, you can see, just right of center, the green swath of the tree lined boulevard. The tall building is the Torre Mayor, the tallest skyscraper in Mexico, and the six pillars of the Monument to the Boy Heroes are at the foot of the hill.
The coronation carriage of Maximilian and Carlota is in one of the halls of the museum.
In stark contrast, next to the coronation carriage is the simple black carriage in which President Benito Juárez fled the capital. He traversed the country, keeping one step ahead of the French and directing Mexican resistance to the French occupation.
Eventually, Napoleon III, faced with problems at home and pressure from the United States, withdrew his troops. Maximilian was alone with his small army of Mexican conservatives. The forces of Juárez defeated Maximilian, and the emperor was executed before a firing squad in 1867. (In spite of pleas for clemency, Juárez refused to commute the sentence because Maximilian himself had ordered the death sentence for captured Mexicans fighting against the empire.)
A mural in the museum portrays the triumphant return of Juárez to Mexico City.
Later, the castle became the presidential residence of the dictator Porfirio Díaz. A number of rooms are still furnished as they were during his rule.
After the Mexican Revolution of 1910 deposed Porfirio Díaz, the castle continued to be used as a presidential residence. In 1939, President Lázaro Cárdenas declared the castle the National Museum of History, and it was opened to the public in 1944.
Today, the museum contains not only a wide collection of artifacts pertaining to the country's history, but is also a showcase of commissioned mural paintings done by some of Mexico's most famous artists. Below is part of a series of murals done by David Siqueiros depicting the Mexican Revolution.
Chapultepec Castle is today one of the outstanding attractions of Mexico City.