The Americas have only ever had one royal castle, and it is located in Mexico City. Chapultepec Castle stands atop a hill overlooking surrounding Mexico City within Chapultepec Park.
Chapultepec park was essentially our first item on our itinerary for Mexico City. We got up early because we knew that we were going to have a full day ahead of us. We had planned on renting bikes to ride around the city, but things didn’t go quite as planned in that area.
Instead we took a nice walk through the city, which was actually quite nice unto itself. We enjoy seeing cities at a slower pace and highly promote seeing a city on foot if you can. This did mean for us though, that we were significantly put off schedule for later in the day.
We walked down Paseo de la Reforma in order to reach the entrance to Chapultepec Park. Once there, it took us a few minutes to orient ourselves to find the castle. Chapultepec Park is a very large park and is home to many museums and activities.
When we had found our directions, we made our way up towards the castle. Chapultepec is the Nahuatl word for ‘Grasshopper Hill”, and is important in Mexican and Mesoamerican history. But the focus at the moment, was the word “hill”.
Up and up we continued to walk. The slope was gentle, but still steadily rising. The views that we had were very pretty, but our focus was on getting to the castle, which was still out of view for us. Occasionally, we would get a glimpse, but it would then disappear behind more trees.
Finally we arrived to the gate and we got our tickets. It costs $59 MXN ($3.20 USD) to enter, but is free for seniors. If you have any food or drinks with you, you will have to store it or toss it. We had to chug our waters since we didn’t want to rent a locker.
There is a statue of a Catholic priest turned Mexican Revolutionary on the way up.
Once we passed through the gates, we were greeted with the lavish grounds of the castle. Several fountains adorn the grounds, including one with a sculpture of a grasshopper – very appropriate.
The site of the castle today was a sacred place for the Aztecs. The location of a natural spring, the Aztecs built an elaborate aqueduct system that carried the fresh water to the Tenochtitlan, which floated on top of the briny lake Texcoco.
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, lake Texcoco was drained and the aqueduct dismantled. In 1785, Viceroy Bernardo de Galvez ordered the construction of a residence located on the highest part of Chapultepec hill. The residence was controversial, as the Spanish Crown believed it to be a fortress that would be used to rebel against the monarchy. It was then ordered to be sold, and fell into disuse and abandoned by 1810 during the Mexican War of Independence.
There is a mural on the ceiling of the main entrance commemorating the soldiers who died defending the castle from US soldiers, who would eventually go on to take the castle. To this day, the US Marines still commemorate the battle with the first line of the Marine’s Hymm, “From the Halls of Montezuma” and the blood stripe on officers’ trousers.
By 1864, with the rise of the Second Mexican Empire, Chapultepec Castle took on new life as Emperor Maximilian I and his wife decided to make the castle their residence. Extensive work was undertaken to make the residence more livable.
Some of the work includes a rooftop garden, European furniture, neoclassical stylings, and a boulevard that would lead to the center of town – Paseo de Reforma.
The castle again fell to disuse after the fall of the empire in 1867. It was decreed to be an astronomical, meteorological, and magnetic observatory in 1878. The castle would continue to be a residence on and off for rulers until 1939, when it was made to be the site of the National Museum.
The National Anthropology Museum moved to a larger, dedicated building elsewhere within Chapultepec Park, but the castle still houses the National Museum of History.
As we wandered about the grounds, we found many of the large interior rooms to have been turned into museum exhibits. There were many different rooms that covered all sorts of topics – Aztecs, Spanish conquest, Royalty, and Mexican history.
One room even houses the royal carriage!
Several rooms also house enormous murals.
Unfortunately – for English speakers – most of the plaques are in Spanish. So you’ll either need to brush up on your Spanish or just make due without the information. If you really want, you can rent audio guides or tour guides when you purchase your tickets – but we didn’t.
Many of the exterior rooms have been kept as they would have been during their time of residence. Elaborate rooms and seem to pop up everywhere.
We were quite pleased with the rooftop garden. There was a concert of some sort being performed. It was already going when we arrived, so we weren’t able to get close to watch, but it did provide great ambiance while wandering.
There is some very impressive stained glass windows on the second floor as well. Most of it is roped off from visitors, but you can still see a fair number of them.
Chapultepec Castle also offers great panoramas of the surrounding park and city.
We wandered the castle grounds for about two hours before leaving. While we could have taken a bit more time, we felt that we had gotten a good view of the castle. Also, storm clouds were rolling in, we hadn’t eaten yet and wanted to get food, and we still had more to our days itinerary.
So if you’re in Mexico City, you absolutely should give yourself a day within Chapultepec Park and allot a few hours to see Chapultepec Castle. You won’t be disappointed!