Monday, November 02, 2009

Leon Trotsky Museum in Mexico City

Mexico City claims to have more museums than any other city on the planet. Some of them, such as the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park, are world-famous. However, there are many lesser known but intriguing museums scattered around the city. One of my favourites is the Leon Trotsky Museum in the colonial suburb of Coyoacan.

This rambling house surrounded by high stone walls with watchtowers was where the exiled Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived with his wife Natalia Sedova for the last two years of his life. The dictator Joseph Stalin expelled Trotsky from Russia in 1929. He and Natalia wandered from country to country until, with the help of Mexican artist Diego Rivera, Trotsky was granted political asylum in Mexico in 1936. Nevertheless, he continued to be hounded by antagonistic Stalinist elements.

Known as "the little fortress," Trotsky's house remains much as he left it. Faded clothes hang neatly in the bedrooms, and tattered Mexican rugs lie on the floors. Sunlight streams through steel-shuttered windows illuminating the desk in Trotsky's study that still holds his books, writing implements, and his trademark wire-rimmed glasses. This is where Leon Trotsky was sitting in August 1940 when an undercover Stalinist agent named Ramón Mercador assassinated the aging revolutionary by sinking an alpine climbing axe into the back of his head.

The house's tranquil inner courtyard brims with tropical plants, including cacti which Trotsky enjoyed collecting on his excursions into the Mexican countryside. Vacant rabbit hutches and chicken coops border the walls, and a stone monument engraved with a hammer and sickle marks the spot where Leon Trotsky's and Natalia Sedova's ashes are interred. A red Soviet flag hangs limply from a pole above the tomb.

In what were once guest quarters at the end of the garden, hang dozens of black and white photos of Trotsky and Natalia accompanied by celebrated friends such as Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo. A new wing adjacent to the original house displays more photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal effects.

Trotsky's archives are here as well, along with a souvenir shop, plus a gallery featuring works by Latin American artists. In spite of these modern additions, the house retains an air of authenticity, and it is easy to imagine Trotsky's ghost still wandering its narrow hallways and sombre rooms.

GETTING THERE: The Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky is located at Avenida Rio Churubusco 410, about seven blocks northeast of the Plaza Hidalgo in Coyoacan. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am until 5pm. Admission is 35 Mexican pesos. Coyoacan can be reached from downtown Mexico City by taxi or on the Metro (subway).

Below is a slide-show of some of my Leon Trotsky Museum photos. Move the cursor over the screen to view captions. Click on individual images for information on ordering prints or leasing for personal or editorial use.

Leon Trotsky Museum, Mexico City 2009 - Images by John Mitchell

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