Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and More: Visiting Mexico City’s House Museums


Within hours of arriving in Coyoacán — a leafy, tranquil, beautiful neighborhood in the southwest part of Mexico City — I was searching the internet for long-term rentals in the area. It was pure fantasy that my family could move there. It seemed as if my family and I had found the ideal base for exploring Mexico City, a place I’d always loved. Its sidewalks lined with brightly colored houses and tenderly nurtured vegetation, Coyoacán is an oasis of tranquillity, almost like an island surrounded by the roiling 24/7 energy of the nation’s vibrant capital.

The neighborhood’s appeal has been obvious for centuries, long before it was engulfed by Mexico City’s sprawl, in fact before it was even a village. The conquistador Hernan Cortés is said to have lived here around 1520 (after the destruction of the Aztec capital), though obviously not in the 18th century building now known as the Casa de Cortés. Coyoacán was incorporated into the capital in the 19th century and, in 1928, designated as a borough.

In the early and mid 20th century, Coyoacán was Mexico City’s Greenwich Village, its Montparnasse. Artists from all over the world came to visit their Mexican counterparts — and stayed. Much of the area’s rich history — and its particular magic — has remained and can still be seen in the houses where these luminaries lived and worked. Perhaps it’s superstitious to feel closer to the dead in the places where they lived, but if so, it’s a superstition shared by a great many people.

Now it is a wildly popular tourist destination, almost a pilgrimage site, with advanced ticketing and (often) long waits to get in. You can pause before vitrines containing the elaborate folkloric costumes the artist wore and visit her somewhat shrine-like bedroom, but it’s hard to feel a personal sense of communion with her in what is less a recreation of her home and more of a tribute display, with a gift shop and a quote from Patti Smith stenciled on one wall, words that could not have been there when Kahlo and Rivera enjoyed the pretty courtyard.

It’s certainly worth braving the crowd, though, because Kahlo had great collections — most notably, of retablos, or holy pictures, many representing miraculous rescues. Besides which, you can’t help thinking that Frida and Diego would have been pleased by the turnout, the awe and the attention. Both were ambitious, both deeply concerned with career and reputation.


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