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Museo de las Momias: Guanajuato, Mexico

Museo de las Momias: Guanajuato, Mexico

Where’s My Mummy?

The dead rest in peace—you hope. But Mexico is a country famous for its friendly relationship with the deceased, and in one of that country’s most beautiful colonial cities, the dead have come back and are receiving visitors by the thousands. Room after room of mummified corpses in near-perfect states of preservation are on view at el Museo de las Momias (the Museum of the Mummies) in Guanajuato. For a tingle down your spine and a quickened pulse, pay a visit here.

The one-of-a-kind museum is located in a hillside underneath a cemetery in this picturesque mining town, located in a mountainous region of central Mexico roughly 350km (220 miles) northwest of Mexico City. The town itself is a tangle of old colonial pathways, staircases, and charming plazas. If you’re looking for the museum (or any other specific place), expect to spend at least a few minutes getting directions or getting lost. There is a city bus marked “Las Momias” that might make the trip a little easier; the bus doesn’t go directly to the museum, but just ask the driver to point out the street that leads uphill to the museum.

The mummies were exhumed from the local cemetery because of a grave tax the city once levied on the families of the dead. Beginning in the 1860s, families who either moved away or were unable to pay the tax had their deceased taken out of the cemetery to make way for the newly departed. Due to the arid conditions in the region, and possibly the influence of some gases and minerals in the gravesites’ soil, the bodies were remarkably well-preserved. Many are wearing all the clothes in which they were buried; some have only shoes or socks remaining. Infants and the elderly alike are represented in the glass-cased exhibits. And according to local legend, not all the dead were dearly departed—one woman is said to have been buried alive. The position of her arms and the scratch marks on her face give credence to this story.

After you return to the land of the living, don’t miss out on Guanajuato’s other sights. The city was once a wealthy mining town, supplying much of Spain’s silver during its colonial heyday, and its fortunes are well-represented in the city’s many 18th-century villas, churches, plazas, and ranching haciendas. A visit to the boyhood home of artist Diego Rivera (Calle Positos 47) and the Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato (Calle Positos 7) round out a visit to this quaint city.

Museo de las Momias, Esplanada del Pantéon ( 52/473/732-0639). State Tourism Office, Plaza de la Paz 14 (52/473/732-1574).
When to Go: Year-round.
Leon/Guanajuato, Mexico.
$$ Hotel Posada Santa Fé, Jardín Unión 12 ( 473/732-0084; www.posadasantafe.com). $$$ Hotel Antiguo Vapor, Galarza 5 ( 473/732-3211; www.hotelavapor.com).

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Eastern State Penitentiary: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

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