The Castle of Chapultepec
By Daniel Alcalá |
The Castle of Chapultepec in Mexico City is considered the only castle in America. Visit it and discover all the treasures it houses.
THE ONLY CASTLE IN AMERICA
Nowadays it’s common to talk about palaces in Mexico City, because many buildings located in the city’s Historic Center have been defined like that. There are, for example, the Palace of Fine Arts, the National Palace, The Mining Palace, the Postal Palace, and more. However, what’s not common in Mexico, or elsewhere in America, is the presence of castles. That’s why today we want to talk to you about a magnificent construction that is also a very elegant tourist attraction: the Chapultepec Castle.
This monument is located in the western part of the city, amidst a priceless urban lung: the Chapultepec Forest. This forest is one of the very few grand scale green areas that still exist in the heart of the metropolis, and one of its main components is the Cerro del Chapulín (Grasshopper Hill), which gives Chapultepec its name: chapul means grasshopper and tepe means hill in the Nahuatl language. Then, crowning the hill you’ll find the protagonist of this forest: the Castle of Chapultepec.
Today, Its collection includes objects that portray the history of Mexico since the 16th century. But it was not always a museum! There was a time when this building belonged to only a reduced number of men. First, the Chapultepec Forest housed a country home for the viceroy of New Spain, and on top of Grasshopper Hill there used to be a chapel dedicated to Saint Michael. But when the country home burned in 1785, viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez decided to construct an all-new building on top of the hill. However, it was not finished because the viceroy passed away. Worst of all, the construction was abandoned. After some time, in 1833, it housed the Heroic Military College, so when the American invasion in Mexico took place in 1847, the Castle was attacked. By the way, you might find it interesting to learn that the Castle was called like that since it was the Military College.
During your visit you’ll be fascinated by the incredible view of the city from the Castle of Chapultepec. Actually, you’ll be able to spot, in the distance, some important buildings found in the Historic Center, as well as the northern and southern parts of the city.
Given its privileged location, in 1864, when Maximilian and Charlotte of Habsburg arrived in Mexico to become the new emperor and empress, they chose the Castle as the perfect place to establish their residence. They also made some changes to the Castle’s fortress and to some of the chambers. Among the ornaments they added, you’ll find tapestries, clocks, European tables, glassware and tableware.
Actually, on the lower level you’ll get the chance to visit the rooms the emperor and empress decorated. From there you’ll also have a spectacular view of another fine example of Maximilian’s legacy in Mexico: Paseo de la Reforma Avenue. Originally it wasn’t called like that, but it was created so that Maximilian could have a direct route to go from the Castle of Chapultepec to the National Palace, located in the heart of the Historic Center.
Above all, don’t miss the chance to photograph Paseo de la Reforma Avenue from that impressive perspective, with its modern skyscrapers and its iconic monuments like the Diana the Huntress Fountain or the Angel of Independence.
THE CHAPULTEPEC CASTLE AS THE PRESIDENTIAL RESIDENCE
On the fortress’ second floor you’ll find other rooms that were adapted during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, that is, between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Back then the Castle was the president’s official residence. One thing you can’t miss in that area is the chamber of Porfirio Díaz and his wife Carmen Romero Rubio, which contrasts greatly with those of Maximilian and Charlotte. Also, on that level you’ll find a great hall with leaded glass windows following the European style Díaz loved so much. They were made in France and they portray scenes of Greek and Roman mythology.
In 1939 president Lázaro Cárdenas decided to move the official residence to another area in the Chapultepec Forest, which is now known as Los Pinos. At the same time, he decreed that the Castle should become the National History Museum, which is what it is today.
WHAT TO SEE AND HOW TO GET TO THE CHAPULTEPEC CASTLE
One thing you should see during your visit to the Castle is the Carriages Hall. There you can find the carriages used by Maximilian of Habsburg and president Benito Juárez, as well as murals that portray Maximilian and Porfirio Díaz.
Among other interesting facts you’ll learn during your tour, for some time during the 19th century the building served as an astronomic observatory. That’s why when you visit the gardens on the second floor you’ll find a tower that was adapted to house the observatory. The structure is quite visible even from afar.
In order to reach the top of the hill where you’ll find the Castle you’ll have to cross the forest and then climb up a steep road, but if you prefer not to walk so much, wait for the small tram that goes up and down the hill every 10 minutes. You can pay for a one way ticket or a round trip, depending on how tired you are, but we recommend purchasing only a one-way ticket. Then, as you walk back down you’ll get the chance to stop mid-way to visit El Caracol Museum.
Without doubt, you should include the Castle of Chapultepec in your itinerary when you travel to Mexico City. It’s a place where you’ll find many different attractions and the chance to learn about Mexican history.