This is a guest post by Pubali and Indranil from Paradise Catchers
When traveling to an urban capital city of a Latin American country, visiting a castle may not feature as a top must-do on your itinerary. But are you fond of visiting castles and absorbing their histories? Then prepare to be pleasantly surprised by Mexico City.
This capital city is home to the Chapultepec Castle. Built in the eighteenth century, the castle served many different purposes over the centuries. Today, Chapultepec Castle houses Mexico’s National History Museum.
You can visit the museum to gaze at the interiors of the castle and also see the displayed artefacts that capture the history of the castle.
History of Chapultepec Castle
Manor House for the Viceroy
Chapultepec Castle began to be constructed in 1725. Mexico was still under Spanish colonial rule at that time. The castle was supposed to serve as the manor house of the Viceroy. But in the meantime Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. In the process, the castle was abandoned during the Mexican War of Independence.
Battle of Chapultepec
Decades later, Mexico revamped the Chapultepec Castle and converted it into a Military Academy. It was during this period that the Chapultepec Castle served as the site for the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847. This battle remains an important chapter of the Mexican-American War.
It is said that a cadet of six teenagers, Niños Heroes, fought a valiant battle of pride before becoming martyrs in this battle. According to Mexican legends, Juan Escuita, the last of the six, wrapped himself in the Mexican flag before jumping off the castle. His motto was to prevent the flag being captured by the Americans.
Second Mexican Empire
In the year 1864, France established constitutional monarchy in Mexico, citing the reasons of failed debt repayment. Mexican Conservatives also facilitated the rise of this Second Mexican Empire.
Maximilian I of House Hapsburg-Lorraine of Austrian origin was appointed as the sovereign of Mexico. Maximilian along with his wife Empres Carlota, a Belgian princess resided at Chapultepec Castle during their reign in Mexico.
However, Maximilian’s reign in Mexico was short-lived. In 1867, the French were defeated and Maximilian was executed. Mexican Republic was reestablished. And once again, the castle was left with no purpose to serve.
Chapultepec Castle also served as the presidential residence. President Porfirio Díaz and his wife Carmen Romero Rubio resided here between 1883 and 1910.
National History Museum
In early twentieth century, Chapultepec Castle found a renewed purpose. In 1939, then President Lázaro Cárdenas directed the castle to be converted into the headquarters of National Museum of History. This is how the castle stands in the modern day, open to visitors from around the world.
Interesting facts about Chapultepec Castle
Royal castle in North America
Did you know that Chapultepec Castle is the only royal castle in North America? The nations in this part of the world have mostly been under colonial rule before transitioning to democracy. Naturally, there were no kings and queens and hence no royal castles either. Unlike in Europe and Asia. That is why Chapultepec Castle holds so much importance. It is the solo sovereign castle in continental North America.
Romeo Juliet and Chapultepec Castle
Another interesting bit about Chapultepec Castle is that you have probably already seen glimpses of Chapultepec Castle. That is, if you are a movie buff. Leonardo DiCaprio starrer Romeo + Juliet was shot in Chapultepec Castle, among other locations. Chapultepec Castle was set as the Capulet Mansion where Romeo first sees Juliet.
What to see at Chapultepec Castle
Take a tour of the Chapultepec Castle. You will get the chance to admire the interiors of the castle. But a visit to the Chapultepec Castle has a much deeper implication. You take a dive down the lanes of history.
There are 15 different rooms (salas) capturing the history of Mexico. As you walk from one room to another, you will learn about the evolution of Mexican history over the centuries. The paintings, the murals and the artefacts tell stories from the pre fifteenth century period until the modern twentieth century.
Site Museum, Alcázar
After absorbing the centuries old history of Mexico, you can move to the Alcázar section. Here you will find rooms organized like living spaces of luxury residences. You can see set ups for all kinds of residential spaces – living room, dining room, bedroom and bathroom. Furniture, paintings and other household objects adorn these rooms.
On the ground floor, the rooms contain objects from the period when Maximilian and Carlota inhabited the castle (1864-1867). The first floor has rooms filled with objects from when Díaz and Carmen resided here (1883-1910).
Bonus: View of Mexico City skyline
As you immerse yourself in a time long gone by, do not forget to look on the other side. Take in the views of Mexico City skyline from the terrace. You can also see the canopy of Bosque del Chapultepec lined by city high-rises. You get a view of where the green jungle meets the concrete jungle.
How to reach Chapultepec Castle
Although otherwise a concrete urban jungle, Mexico City boasts of one of the largest city parks of the Americas. No wonder, Bosque del Chapultepec is considered to constitute the lungs of Mexico City.
Chapultepec Hill is a 200 feet high rock formation inside Bosque del Chapultepec. Sits at the top of Chapultepec Hill the Castle of Chapultepec, playing witness to the history of Mexico City for centuries.
Chapultepec Castle is fairly easy to reach by public transport as this is an important location within Mexico City. I just took an Uber from my hotel and reached in less than 15 minutes.
The distances from some important locations in the city are as follows:
- Mexico City International Airport: 15 km
- Polanco: 3 km
- Condesa: 2 km
- Coyoacan: 12 km
Here is the Google Maps Link to Chapultepec Castle.
Hours of visit
The Chapultepec Castle is usually open all year round, from Tuesday to Sunday.
Opening hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
However, the museum is temporarily closed to visitors due to the current ongoing pandemic of 2020.
You can purchase the tickets from the ticket counter at Chapultepec Castle. You cannot really make an advance reservation unless your are booking through a tour provider. But as people say and in my personal experience as well, you do not need a prior reservation. The queue is short and fast moving. I believe this may change if you are visiting the museum during a peak season, for example, Semana Santa (Easter Week).
Ticket price: $80 Mexican Pesos (~$4 USD)
Children below 13 and senior citizens above 60 years of age get free entry. If you are a citizen or a resident in Mexico, you get free entry to the museum on Sundays. So plan your visit accordingly.
Guided vs. self-guided tours
You can do a self-guided tour of the Chapultepec Caste or book an organized guided tour through a tour company.
I did a self-guided tour. Browsing through the exhibits and the stories at my own pace, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I did not feel the need for a guide. Most of the artefacts were accompanied by write-ups in either Spanish or in both Spanish and English.
But in case you prefer a guided tour, you can ask your hotel concierge desk or Airbnb host for tour recommendations.
I love Mexico City because of its rich history and cultural heritage. Sure, the Caribbean waters of Rivera Maya will entice you. But you cannot just ignore the history of Mexico. Interestingly, it is not just limited to Mayan and Aztec ruins. There are plenty of museums in Mexico City itself that deserve your attention, like the Frida Kahlo Museum and the Anthropology Museum among others.
Chapultepec Castle is definitely one among those. The castle is uniquely positioned as it is an actual royal castle turned museum. Its location in the greenest sector in the heart of an urban city also makes the castle interesting. So, if you like to visit castles or museums or both, I highly recommend including Chapultepec Castle in your Mexico City itinerary.