Diego’s Pyramid of Art: Anahuacalli

The sun is closer here, walking across this dark volcanic square. Rhythmic footsteps set to laughter spill from a dance class in a low building at one corner. We catch our breath and a glug of water on two incongruous wooden deck chairs, a respite under this shade umbrella we swung our way. In front of us rises the modern black towering pyramid that houses Diego Rivera’s pre-Hispanic collection, Anahuacalli.

Anahuacalli

The climb inside begins in the cool dark; shadowy stone god-animal figures rest on outcroppings from the walls and floor between abstract obsidian objects, mosaics in the ceiling form swirling images in shades of dusk. Even the windows down here appear to be stone, a murky ochre stained glass against the shadows. Following the roughly hewn galleries through low temple doors, passing from one god’s domain to the next, the brightly lit cases multiply, walls filled with organized yet unlabeled stone and pottery artifacts found nameless.

The staircase to the next level reaches up, narrowing sharply at a halfway landing at ceiling height and marching up single-file to more rooms of pottery, figures, characters large and small engaged in every human activity. The narrow windows are brighter, even moreso on the next level as the ceiling murals too grow in colorful enthusiasm. Animals, less god-like, and faces of the old, of caring and of fear. Long galleries down either side open up to the outside greenery originally hidden downslope from the edifice.

Head massage Seated figures Birds and mugs Fear

In the great middle of this pyramid we remove our shoes to join other stockingfooted visitors on a vast satellite image of the city laminated across the floor of this open ballroom and its vestibules, overlaid almost entirely with the black lake of prehistory, and the temples of antiquity outlined as sparse tiny wooden walls we step over gingerly as giants. Vertical windows stretching three stories above us illuminate the room brightly, and above our heads stretch Diego’s sketches for murals to be. Our socks slide noiselessly across the smooth floor to see the immense humanscapes from new perspectives. The unfinished work of this world reflects in the featureless ceiling.

Diego Rivera's sketches

The final course of narrow steps opens to a large stone terrace open to the sky: the mosaic murals are now beneath our feet, and the city is visible in all directions beyond the hilltop’s green preserve. We soak in the sun until we must wind our way back into the rock and seek that shade and water.

Emerging from Anahuacalli pyramid