Friday, August 18, 2006
La Venta Park's Colossal Olmec Heads, Villahermosa, Mexico
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to visit Parque-Museo la Venta, a one-of-a-kind outdoor archaeology museum and ecological park in Villahermosa, steamy capital of the the Mexican state of Tabasco. La Venta Park-Museum is home to a fascinating collection of pre-Hispanic stone sculptures rescued from the ancient Olmec city of La Venta located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Villahermosa.
In 1957, oil exploration threatened to destroy much of La Venta. A Tabascan poet and preservationist named Carlos Pellicer took it upon himself to truck most of La Venta’s irreplaceable treasures to Villahermosa. Pellicer arranged the sculptures in roughly the same order in which they were found at La Venta and surrounded them with indigenous flora and fauna.
La Venta Park’s star attractions are four colossal Olmec heads, the largest of which is 2.4 meters (8 feet) tall and weighs about 24 tons. Seated like Buddhas atop rocky mounds, these enigmatic heads stare impassively into space with their large almond-shaped eyes. Despite all manner of theories, no one knows whom exactly these mysterious carvings represent. Also a mystery is how the Olmecs transported enormous pieces of basalt needed to make these sculptures from the distant Tuxtla Mountains.
The entrance to the Parque-Museo La Venta is on Avenida Ruiz Cortines, a few minutes by taxi from downtown Villahermosa. Admission is 30 pesos (about US$3.00) and the park is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. You can buy a map at the entrance and take a self-guided tour or hire a guide. Bring plenty of mosquito repellent and wear light-coloured clothing because dark colours attract mosquitoes.
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La Venta Park Museum, Tabasco - Images by John Mitchell