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Depending on your personality, a visit to the Guanajuato Mummy Museum can produce any of several reactions.
Some people may find it fascinating and culturally significant, while others may see this display of dozens of mummified bodies as exploitative or difficult to view. But one thing is for sure: Once you’ve visited, you’re not going to easily forget the experience.
Guanajuato is a revered tourism destination for many reasons. This mining town in central Mexico was an important city during the Spanish colonial days, and it served as a birthplace of the Mexican revolution. Its picturesque, narrow streets and historic architecture are complemented by quaint restaurants, sidewalk cafes and hotels that look like movie sets in their perfection.
And then there are the mummies. The first thing to understand is that the Guanajuato Mummy Museum is not King Tut’s tomb. The mummies at this Mexico attraction, in fact, represent a much more recent time frame, ranging from 1870 through the late 20th century. Some of the bodies are still clothed. Some have explanatory histories, but many don’t. Most are adults, but there are also the remains of children and even infants.
The mummified corpses on display at the museum were once housed in graves at the adjacent municipal cemetery (which is also worth a visit). When surviving relatives failed to pay grave taxes, the deceased loved ones were removed from the cemetery. Guanajuato’s dry climate, as it turns out, provides ideal conditions for naturally preserving bodies in a mummified state.
City officials didn’t immediately think of creating a tourist attraction. Cemetery administrators placed the corpses in an ossuary beneath the grounds, so that relatives could, if they wished, pay for reburial at a later date. By the late 1800s, dozens of remains lined the facility. Even after the practice of removing bodies from the cemetery discontinued in 1958, the corpses remained, and there are bodies represented from more recent years as well.
Over time, the collection attracted the public’s attention, opening to the public officially in the 1950s. The attraction gained even more notoriety in 1970, when a Mexican movie called “Santo Versus the Mummies of Guanajuato” filmed there, pitting a masked lucha libre wrestler against the mummies.
Today, more than 100 mummies rest in glass cases in a series of exhibition rooms, with well-planned lighting, bilingual explanatory signage and the option for a guided tour. The venue is organized and provides a fascinating glimpse into Mexican traditions.
This museum is decidedly not for everyone. Indeed, the visuals could be frightening to young children and some adults. Some of the corpses still have hair and eyebrows, and some have expressions that look anguished (although the expression is more likely the result of the hardening of the tongue and relaxing of jaw muscles after death). Among the most renowned exhibits is that of what’s claimed to be the smallest mummy in the world: a 4-month-old fetus from a woman who died of cholera in the 1860s.
However, the Guanajuato Mummy Museum can also be a way to have new conversations about what death means and how we remember the deceased.
The museum, which is owned by the state government, is located inside the city., It can be reached via a quick taxi, Uber or bus ride from the historic city center, where most of the tourist attractions, restaurants and hotels are located. Just outside the museum, multiple vendors sell everything from Day of the Dead items to religious symbols. Guanajuato Mummy Museum is not for everyone, but it’s certainly unforgettable.
The DetailsGuanajuato Mummy Museumwww.momiasdeguanajuato.gob.mx