Chapultepec, more commonly called the “Bosque de Chapultepec” (Chapultepec Forest) in Mexico City, is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring in total just over 686 hectares (1,695 acres). Centered on a rock formation called Chapultepec Hill, one of the park’s main functions is an ecological space in Greater Mexico City. It is considered the first and most important of Mexico City’s “lungs”, with trees that replenish oxygen to the Valley of Mexico. The park area has been inhabited and considered a landmark since the Pre-Columbian era, when it became a retreat for Aztec rulers. In the colonial period, Chapultepec Castle was built here, eventually becoming the official residence of Mexican heads of state. It would remain so until 1940, when it was moved to another part of the park called Los Pinos.
Bosque de Chapultepec is divided into three sections, with the first section being the oldest and most visited. This section contains most of the park’s attractions, including the castle, the Chapultepec Zoo, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Rufino Tamayo Museum, among others. It receives an estimated 15 million visitors per year.
According to studies, there has been human presence in the area since at least the pre-Classic period. The first identified culture archaeologists have evidence for is the Toltecs. The Toltecs named the area “grasshopper hill”, which would later become Nahuatl “Chapoltepēc” (“at the grasshopper hill”). Remains of a Toltec altar have been found on the hill’s summit. In the Classic Period, the area was occupied by people of the Teotihuacan culture. When the Mexicans, or Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico, it was inhabited by a people called the Tepanecas of Azcapotzalco.
When the Aztecs took over the Valley of Mexico, they considered the hill as both a sacred and strategic site. They began to use the area as a repository for the ashes of their rulers, and the area’s springs became an important source of fresh water for the capital of Tenochtitlan. Eventually, the area became a retreat strictly limited to the ruling and religious elite. In the 1420s, ruler Nezahualcoyotl was the first to build a palace in the area. Moctezuma II built reservoirs to raise exotic fish and to store water. He also had trees and plants from various parts of the Aztec Empire planted here. In 1465, Moctezuma I ordered his portrait carved into a rock at the foot of the hill and constructed the Tlaxpana aqueduct, which measured three km. Folden screen. Sarao [party] in a garden of Chapultepec, anonymous painter, ca. 1780-1790, Mexico City. National Museum of History of Chapultepec Castle. This painting has been seen by many people as a reference of the existing division of races during the colony.
During the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, one of the last battles between the Spanish and ruler Cuauhtémoc occurred at Chapultepec Hill in 1521. Shortly thereafter, the Franciscans built a small hermitage over the indigenous altar on Chapultepec Hill. Hernán Cortés appropriated Chapultepec and granted the northern portion to Captain Juan Jaramillo, who would become the husband of La Malinche. However, in 1530, Charles V decreed the area as the property of the Mexico City and open to it to the public. The Spanish continued to use the Aztec aqueduct, but in 1771, another one was deemed necessary for the growing population of Mexico City. The Chapultepec aqueduct led water from the springs of the forest to an area in what was the south of the city, called Salto del Agua. It flowed over 904 arches and 3,908 meters. In 1785, the Franciscan hermitage was demolished to make way for the Chapultepec Castle, converting the hill and the forest around it into a summer retreat for colonial viceroys. The area was walled off from the general public and was the scene of elegant parties.
After Mexico achieved independence in 1821, the Castle became the official residence of the head of state. A number of these, especially Emperor Maximilian I and his wife, embellished and expanded the castle as well as the forest area around it. The Hill was also the site of the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847, between Mexican and U.S. troops led by General Winfield Scott. A band of cadets was at the Castle when it was attacked, and near the end of the battle, six of them decided to jump to their deaths from the castle on the hill to the rocks below. These six are referred to as the “Niños Héroes” and are honored by a monument near where their bodies fell. The castle remained the official residence of Mexican presidents until 1940, when this function was moved to the Los Pinos residence, and the Castle was converted into a museum.
Since then, the park has been expanded twice, adding the second section in 1964 and the third section ten years later. Since then, the focus has been on the maintenance of the area. By 1998, the paths of the park, especially in the first section, were saturated with over 3,000 peddlers with few regulations or norms. In 2005, the first section of the park was closed for renovations, effectively evicting all vendors from the area. When it reopened months later, permits for selling were strictly limited, and police began to crack down on vendors in the park. However, some vendors continue to operate illegally and exchange information on the police’s steps with radio communication equipment. At the entrances to the park, where the vendor restrictions are not in place, some vendors sometimes block the entrances and cover signs so that visitors are forced to pass through their stands.
Maintenance issues have closed parts of the park from time to time. In 1985, the park was closed to exterminate rats and other pests. In 2005, the park was filled with trees in poor condition, had scum in the lakes, and had trash piles in several locations, including fountains. From that year until 2010, the park was closed section by section for restoration and rehabilitation projects. The first section was closed for eight months in 2005, for work that included dredging lakes, pruning and removing trees, picking up tons of debris, and expelling hundreds of vendors. Shortly thereafter, projects on the second and third sections of the park began, mostly to control or eliminate rats, feral dogs and cats, pigeons, and other introduced species. In 2005, migratory birds began to make a comeback at the park with the eradication and relocation of introduced species such as geese and ducks, which were aggressive to other species. The park hosts more than 100 species of this kind of bird, with some reproducing here for the first time in decades. Other native mammals returned in 2005, including the Virginia opossum and the cacomistle.
In 2010, projects included renovating jogging tracks, and planting more than 800 trees, including acacia café, pino azul, pino peñonero, holm oak, pino moctezuma, pino prieto and grevilia, as well as the removal of dead or severely infected trees. These rehabilitation efforts of the 2000s were funded by a combination of government and private funds from groups like Probosque.
National Museum of AnthropologyMany people use Chapultepec every day to run and exercise like in the Gandhi Circuit in the First Section of the park.
The oldest and most visited portion of the park is called the “first section”. It is the most developed area, and it has a wrought iron fence and gates that extend around its perimeter. These fences mostly separate it from the streets that form its boundaries: Avenida Constituyentes (es), Paseo de la Reforma, Calzada Chivatito, and the Anillo Periférico. The interior measures 274.03 hectares (677.1 acres), with 182 hectares (450 acres) of this being undeveloped green space. It contains most of the best known of the park’s attractions, such as the Lago Menor (Small Lake), the Nezahuacoyotl Fountain, the Fuente de las Ranas, the Quixote Fountain, the Templanza Fountain, the Altar a la Patria, the Obelisco a los Niños Héroes, the Monumento a las Águilas Caídas (Monument to Fallen Eagles), The Ahuehuete, and the Baths of Moctezuma. The best-known museums in the park are in this section, including Museo Nacional de Historia-Chapultepec Castle, the Casa del Lago, the National Auditorium, the Centro Cultural del Bosque (es), the National Museum of Anthropology, the Rufino Tamayo Museum, and the Museo de Arte Moderno (Modern Art Museum). It also contains the Chapultepec Zoo, the Jardín de la Tercera Edad, and the Audiorama. These are connected by various paved paths, many of which have names such as the Avenue of the Poets, which is lined with bronze busts of famous literary figures. The pathway also has trees that are hundreds of years old.
This section of the park also contains the geological formation that gave the park/forest its name: Chapultepec Hill. It is a formation of volcanic rock and andesite, which is common in the Valley of Mexico and contains small caves and sand deposits. “Chapultepec” in Nahuatl means “grasshopper hill” but it is not clear whether the “Chapul” (grasshopper) part refers to the shape of the hill, or the abundance of grasshoppers in the surrounding woods. This hill was considered special during the pre-Hispanic period from the Toltecs in the 12th century to the Aztecs up to the time of the Conquest by the Spanish. Remains of a Toltec altar have been found at the top of the hill, a number of burials and its use was reserved only for Aztec emperors and other elite.
After the Conquest, a small chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael was built on the hill by Claudio de Arciniega in the middle of the 16th century. In the 18th century, the Spanish built the Chapultepec Castle, which initially was a summer retreat for viceroys. After the Independence, the Castle remained for the elite, becoming the official residence of Mexico’s heads of state, including the Emperor Maximilian, who had the Paseo de la Reforma built to connect this area with the historic center of the city. During this time, the Castle and the gardens around it were enlarged and embellished a number of times, giving the Castle a floorspace of 10,000 m2 (110,000 sq ft). The most outstanding of the patios and garden is the Alcázar. In 1940, the president’s residence was moved to the nearby Los Pinos complex, and the castle was converted into the National Museum of History, under the auspices of the federal government, along with the rest of the hill. The museum contains twelve rooms which are open to the public, many of which as they were when the Emperor Maximilian lived there. It also contains a collection of furniture from the colonial period to the 19th century, utensils, suits, coins, manuscripts, sculptures in clay ivory and silver, and many other art works. A number of items belonged to figures such as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, José María Morelos y Pavón, Agustín de Iturbide, Benito Juárez, Emiliano Zapata, and others. In addition, there are murals by José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Juan O’Gorman. At the foot of the hill, there is a large monument to the Niños Héroes (also called the Altar a la Patria), who reportedly threw themselves to their death at the Castle rather than surrendering to invading US troops in 1847. This monument consist of six marble columns surrounding a mausoleum with the remains of the six cadets, and a figure of a woman who represents Mexico.
The Chapultepec Zoo is the most visited attraction of the park, especially on Sundays. It is estimated that half of all park visitors come to the zoo. The zoo was established by Alfonso L. Herrera, a biologist, and opened in 1924. Herrera’s intention was to reestablish the zoo tradition of the old Aztec emperors and improve upon it. He began with species native to Mexico and then added others from the rest of the world. He modeled the zoo after the Bioparco di Roma in Rome, Italy. Between 1950 and 1960, the zoo expanded and added new species. In 1975, the zoo obtained two pandas from China. Since then, at least eight panda cubs have been born at the zoo, making it the first institution outside of China to breed the species. From 1992 to 1994, the zoo was completely remodeled, categorizing exhibits by habitat rather than type of species. Some of the most important Mexican species at the facility include a rabbit native to only a few volcanoes in Mexico, the volcano rabbit, the Mexican wolf, ocelot, jaguar and axolotl. Today, it has 16,000 animals of 270 species, separated into four sections according to habitat: tropical forest, temperate forest, desert, and grassland. About one third of the animals are native to Mexico.
Most of the museums in the first section are located along Paseo de la Reforma. Of all of the museums in the park, the most famous is the National Museum of Anthropology, considered one of the most famous archeological museums in the world. The museum has a number of antecedents beginning from the colonial period, but the current institution was created in the 1960s with the building and grounds designed by architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. This museum has an area of 44,000 m2 (470,000 sq ft) and 25 exhibit halls with sections devoted to each of the major pre-Hispanic civilizations in Mexico, including the Aztec, Maya, Toltec, and Olmec. The permanent collection is quite large, and many visitors spend several hours seeing it. There are also temporary exhibits displayed year-round. The Rufino Tamayo Museum is in the first section on Paseo de la Reforma. The permanent collection mostly focuses on the namesake, but there are also works by other Mexican and foreign artists that Tamayo donated. During his lifetime, Tamayo collected one of the most important collections of 20th-century art, which included art works from Andy Warhol, Picasso, Miró, Fernando Botero, Magritte, and about 100 others.
The Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) is located on Paseo de la Reforma and Calle Gandhi, and it hosts various temporary exhibits. The museum’s complex was constructed using modern architecture techniques, which consisted of two circular buildings surrounding a sculpture garden. It contains one of the leading collections of modern art of the 20th century of Mexico. Artists include Dr. Atl, Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Remedios Varo.
The Casa de Cultura Quinta Colorada was originally a former accommodation for the forest rangers of the area in the early 20th century. The house was made using European style architecture techniques. It hosts various cultural activities for visitors and has a small planetarium.
At the foot of the Chapultepec Hill is an extension of the Museum of History called the Museo del Caracol (Snail Museum). This museum narrates the history of Mexico in the winding form of a snail, the shape of the building from which its name comes.
The Luis Barragán House and Studio is the former home of architect Luis Barragán. The house was kept nearly intact since 1948, including the workshop. It also exhibits artworks from the 19th and 20th century.
One of the most popular features in the first section is an artificial lake called the Lago Menor (Smaller Lake). It is one of two lakes in the park; the larger one, Lago Mayor, is in the second section. Lagor Menor, however, attracts more visitors than the other. Visitors can rent paddleboats and small rowboats at the lake. The Lago Menor was created in the late 19th century, when the first section (then the entire park) was redesigned. At the same time Lago Menor was created, the Casa del Lago was constructed. It is shallow with an average depth of a little over one meter. The Casa del Lago, also called the Restaurante del Lago, is now a restaurant that serves continental food and some Mexican dishes.
In addition to the lake, there are a number of large fountains. The Quixote Fountain is surrounded by four benches covered in tile with images of Don Quixote. To the side of this plaza, there are two columns. On the right there is a figure of Quixote with the face of Salvador Dalí and on the other side, there is a depiction of Sancho Panza with the face of Diego Rivera. Both statues were made of bronze by José María Fernández Urbina. The Fuente de las Ranas (Fountain of the Frogs) was created in the 1920s, by Miguel Alessio Robles in Seville, Spain. The Nezahualcoyotl Fountain was inaugurated in 1956. It measures 1,250 m2 (13,500 sq ft) and surrounds a statue of the Aztec ruler nine meters tall in black stone.
Throughout the first section, there are different kinds of trees; the most common one is the Montezuma cypress, locally called “ahuehuetes”. A number of these are hundreds of years old, although there are far fewer due to a past disease epidemic. One dead specimen is called the Ahuehuete of Moctezuma, commonly referred to as El Sargento (The Sargeant) or as the Centinela (Sentinel). The last two names were given by cadets of the Heroic Military Academy during the 19th century. The 500-year-old tree remains as a monument to the area’s history, measuring 50 metres (160 ft) high, forty in circumference. Another tree of the species, still living, is El Tlatoani, which is more than 700 years old and is the oldest tree in the park. In addition to these trees, there are sequoias, cedars, palms, poplars, pines, ginkgos, and more.
Los Pinos has been the official residence of the presidents of Mexico since 1941. Though the presidential residence is inside the park, there is no public access to it. The residence is made up of white stucco structures; this architecture can be seen from Molino del Rey, a former millhouse and site of a battle of the Mexican–American War in 1847. Los Pinos is on one edge of the park.
The National Auditorium is one of Mexico City’s principal arenas. It primarily hosts musical ensembles and dance troupes. Singers from Mexico and abroad perform there yearlong. The park hosts a number of cultural events during the year. One of them is the performance of Swan Lake, which is conducted on a stage in Lago Menor. This performance has been given since 1978 in warmer months. Night tours by train that go around the park are popular around Christmas time, when many of the attractions are lit for the season. The Ballet Folklórico de México also holds performances on occasion at Chapultepec Castle.
The second section of the park was created in 1964 by expanding over former farmlands. This section is separated by Anillo Periférico road and measures 160.02 hectares. It is not as developed as the first section, but it is also dedicated to recreational activities. Lago Mayor overlaps with the second section; this part of the lake contains the Monumental Fountain, the largest one in Latin America. It is surrounded by several restaurants and cafés. Nearby are the Compositores, Xochipilli and Las Serpientes fountains.
The area contains jogging trails, places for yoga and karate, and other exercise facilities on the tree areas. Around 1,000 people each day go to this section to exercise. The jogging trails were doubled from 2 km to 4 km in the late 2000s.
One part of this section is dominated by the Feria de Chapultepec amusement park, located near the Lago Mayor, just off the Anillo Periférico. The park has a capacity of 15,000 people and is visited by about two million each year. It includes several roller coasters, including the Montaña Infinitum.
This section contains museums such as Papalote Museo del Niño, the Technology Museum of the Federal Electricity Commission (es), and the Museo de Historia Natural (es). El Papalote Museo del Niño is an interactive children’s museum which invites children to touch and manipulate the exhibits. The Technology Museum consists of four very large halls which exhibit modern advances in technology. In its surrounding gardens, there are old locomotives, railcars and tracks. It also contains an auditorium for events and a planetarium. The Museo de Historia Natural focuses mostly on the origins of life with its permanent exhibits. It also hosts temporary exhibits and academic conferences.
The Cárcamo de Dolores hydraulic structure, found in this section, was built between 1942 and 1952 to capture water sent to the Valley of Mexico from the Lerma River basin in the Toluca Valley. The major parts open to the public consist of a pavilion, covered with an orange half cupola and a fountain with an image of Tlaloc. Originally, the water was stored underground and pumped to the surface when needed. The main building has serpent heads on the four corners and there is a mural painted by Diego Rivera called El agua: origen de la vida.
In 2010, the second section of the park underwent rehabilitation, funded in part by a private charity group called Probosque de Chapultepec. Most of the work was done on the jogging track, the Tlaloc Fountain, the Cárcamo de Dolores building, the El agua: origen de la vida mural, and the construction of an agora. These works together form the Museo Jardín del Agua (Water Garden Museum). In addition, a large number of dead trees were removed and about 800 new ones planted.
The third section of the park is located on the west side of the second and was inaugurated in 1974. It has a surface area of 242.9 hectares. It is the least developed and least visited; it is filled with trees and wildlife. Although some recreational activities such as archery and horseback riding are practiced there, the importance of this area is primarily as an ecological preserve for various species of flora and fauna, such as snakes and lizards. In 1992, it was decreed as a Protected Natural Area. In 2010, there were reports of feral dogs attacking visitors in the third section. Approximately 150 feral dogs were living in the small canyon areas of this section that year.