I know it sounds lame, but I have never seen a dinosaur skeleton up close and personal before. So when we walked into the National Geology Museum in colonia Santa María de Ribera and I saw that giant mammoth skeleton in the entryway I got a little giddy. Ok, ok, I realize it’s not a dinosaur, just a very old, extinct animal, but I loved it anyway. Apparently the dinosaur bones found in Mexico are all found very north because this part of Mexico, the central region and the Yucatán peninsula, was a shallow water ocean (much like the Caribbean Ocean today) during the dinosaur days.There are theories that the Yucatán only emerged as a land mass because of the impact of the Chicxulub meteorite that shook the earth and, according to many scientists, sparked the beginning of dinosaurs’ extinction. Later, our Lake Texcoco (the one the city sits on top of) was a kind of watering hole for pre-historic animals passing through and that’s why many of their bones have been discovered here. (Like below the Talisman metro stop when workers were excavating it to build the station– note the symbol used for it).
The geology museum has mammoth bones, pre-historic horses, fossils of every kind and the fossilized remains of Ichtyosaurus, a pre-historic aquatic animal that died giving birth and her young’s skeleton rests inside of her own. There are also case upon case of meteorites, quartz, amethyst, Hematite and turquoise all lined up like sandwiches in a deli case.
The museum was originally built as the National Geology Institute and filled with researchers. Unbeknownst to many of its visitors there are a series of stunning paintings by José María Velasco Gómez hanging on the walls at the top of the entryway’s long, winding staircase. Each painting represents different stages of nature’s evolution – I am especially fond of the depictions of marine life – and are Velasco’s interpretations of a set of black and white postcards drawn by landscape artist Joseph Hoffman. They hang beside incredible stain-glass windows, recreations of 10 different geological events in Mexico’s history.
After wandering through the quartz and the meteorites, we crossed the plaza to the Kiosco Morisco. This is a moorish-style gazebo reconstructed three times during its lifetime; the first to serve as the Mexican pavilion at the 1884 World’s Fair held in New Orleans, the second, to sit in the Centro Histórico’s alameda after the fair until was reconstructed once again in the Santa Maria de Ribera plaza. Its carving is beautifully intricate and still maintains its rainbow of red, yellow, blue and brown coloring.
There are two great places to eat right on the plaza, one Kolboko, the Russian restaurant that fills up with Russians and non-Russians alike on sunny Saturday afternoons. We ate chunky beet borsht with a dollop of cool sour cream on top, heavy Bajithka beers, pork goulash, and flaky honey cake. On the other side of the plaza is Los Jirafas, home of giant quesadillas so big that you get a metal hanger centerpiece on which to hang your beer (to save table space), served in a long giraffe-neck glass. All this in addition to one of the city’s first colonias built outside of the downtown Mexico City. A place that filled up with intellectuals and high-society moneymakers looking to get out of the hustle and bustle of busy Centro Histórico. These days the colonia is simply another neighborhood in the city, but it was once an escape to the countryside. The streets are a mix of 19th century mansions, ancient Mason Lodges, tenement apartment buildings and Mexico’s ubiquitous abbarotes shops.There are so many hidden gems with a few blocks radius that overwhelmed my lazy Saturday afternoon attitude.
Next time I’m going to visit the haunted house where pop singer Thalia grew up and find the building that was the fictional setting of La Casa de las Mil Vírgenes, a novel by Arturo Azuela populated by the personalities of Santa Maria de Ribera.