The superb collections of the Museo de América (Museum of the Americas) make it one of the finest places in the world to see pre-Columbian artifacts from the ancient civilizations conquered by the Spanish Empire.
Inside the museum’s galleries there are countless mysterious artifacts brought back to Spain from the civilizations that were plundered and bloodily swept away by the conquistadors—namely the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans. Exhibited alongside these are archaeological pieces that provide a window into the art, society, and everyday life of many other regional civilizations—including those that never encountered the Europeans—such as the Peruvian Moches and Chavin people, and the Mexican Olmec and Teotihuacan cultures.
Some highlights of the museum include an exhibit on indigenous languages, an ancient mummy from Peru and a Mayan funerary urn, as well as a wonderful collection of gold figurines from the Quimbaya civilization of modern-day Colombia. Of particular significance and historical value are the numerous and striking Incan artifacts, of which very few remain in existence today. The majority of the gold and silver treasures belonging to this fascinating Andean civilization were plundered by the conquistadors to be melted down and made into the famous “pieces of eight” coins, the first global currency.
Indeed it was the destruction of such objects to be converted into coinage that made Spain the richest and most powerful country in the world for well over two centuries, an aspect that the museum does not shy away from. Interestingly, unlike many other archaeological collections, this museum doesn’t just showcase the pre-Columbian and pre-colonial history of the Americas. Also displayed are artifacts, paintings, and exhibits that reflect the somber and complex history of Spanish colonialism itself, and how it shaped the modern-day “New World.”