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Mexico City, Mexico

Chapultepec Castle

The only castle in North America to ever house actual sovereigns 

When we think of castles we think of Europe and Asia, of the towering spires of Neuschwanstein and the massive courtyards and interlocking palaces that populate the Forbidden City. North America is not a continent that has a ton of “castle cred,” mostly because modern North American history (dating from the arrival of white settlers) is, for the most part, a history either of colonies or democracies. However, there is one structure on the North American continent that can truly claim to be a castle, Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City.

Chapultepec has the rather dubious distinction of being the only castle within North America to ever house actual sovereigns. It was originally constructed in 1725 on the orders of the Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez, and was meant to be a large manor house for the Viceroy, who was the commander-in-chief of the Spanish colony, New Spain. During the Mexican War of Independence the castle was abandoned, and remained in a state of dereliction for several decades. It was eventually refurbished and turned into a Military Academy. It was in this capacity that he castle served as the site of the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War in 1847.

With the rise of the Second Mexican Empire in 1864 the castle became the official residence of Emperor Maximilian I and his wife Empress Carlota. Maximilian, while in name and title the Emperor of Mexico, was in fact an Austrian prince of the Habsburg dynasty who was not ethnically Mexican at all, having been offered the crown by Mexican monarchists. During this period the castle began to take on its current floor plan, with Maximilian hiring multiple architects to re-design the castle in the neo-classical style which was popular at the time.

Unfortunately for Maximilian his reign, and with it the Second Mexican Empire, were brought to an abrupt halt only four years later in 1867 when he was shot by firing squad along with several of his most loyal followers. With the establishment of the Mexican Republic under Benito Juárez Cahpultepec again began to fall into disuse and disrepair.

Currently the castle is the seat of National Museum of Cultures, which was formerly known as the Museum of Natural History. It was established as such by Lázaro Cárdenas in 1939. In this capacity it is open to visitors who can come and tour both the castle itself and the various collections it now houses. Through the past decades it has become a favorite location of movie directors appearing in both Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet.

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