Global Conference in Prague, 2023 Top Travel

Moctezuma’s headdress isn’t in Mexico – it’s in Vienna

Moctezuma's Headdress. (Regina López/YJI)
See more ‘Postcards from Prague’ by clicking on the image. (Viktorie Goldmannová/YJI)

VIENNA – In my last year of primary school, my class had a school trip to Teotihuacán, where the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon reside.

Teotihuacán was the center of what used to be Tenochtitlán, the core of the Aztec Empire.

I marveled at what my ancestors had built. Mexican history has always been interesting to me and I have always been just fine with being Mexican.

When I went to Teotihuacán and I saw the pyramids, it was the first time I felt overwhelmingly happy to be Mexican.

I’ve worked hard so my life would be filled with big adventures in faraway places. Seven years after my Teotihuacán adventure, I found myself in Vienna. 

I was only there for two days and I admit I’m a very basic tourist. I based my one person walking tour on Tripadvisor’s advice. I went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, to Mozart’s apartment, to the Albertina museum.

But before going to all those places there was a place I absolutely needed to visit.

Ver el penacho de Moctezuma – see Moctezuma ‘s headdress – was the top element of my bucket list. 

At 10 a.m. I was the first person in line to enter that big beautiful building. To my surprise, the headdress of Moctezuma was the main attraction of the Weltmuseum Wien. It was the main image on the museum’s brochure.

Day of the Dead handicrafts. (Regina López/YJI)
Items on display relating to the Virgin of Guadalupe. (Regina López/YJI)

Mexico’s exhibition was the biggest one in the museum. Most of the people in the room were Mexican.

Funny enough, we were all proudly wearing our official soccer jerseys of the Mexican team.

The Aztec Empire was the biggest and most powerful in Mesoamerica until 1519. That’s when the Spanish kingdom sent the explorer Hernán Cortés, who ended up conquering Mexico and imprisoning Moctezuma, the ruler of the Aztec Empire. 

It is not confirmed if the headdress was Moctezuma’s, but they were normally used by rulers, Gods, priests and warriors. They were also offered as gifts, which is considered the most plausible way it got to Austria in the first place.

Huipiles, which are traditional Mexican clothing. (Regina López/YJI)

I rediscovered my own culture in another country. The museum displayed Aztec shields, sculptures and other kinds of weapons and art. There were also handicrafts that I could easily find in any street market in Mexico City, like handmade skeletons or traditional jewelry.

The people who weren’t Mexican found them really precious.

The author’s selfie with Moctezuma’s Headdress. (Regina López/YJI)

I’m not angry that Austria has possession of these things, but I couldn’t help to feel that I should’ve seen them in my country.

In 2010, the Welt Museum Wien took on a research project on the headdress in cooperation with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia – Mexico ‘s National Institute of Anthropology and History. The possibility of taking it back to Mexico was even discussed, but it was determined that it was too fragile to make that trip.

In recent years, funding for Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History has taken a strong hit.

So, although I know that little gift from my ancestors is better off on the other side of the world, at least I got the chance to visit it.

Regina López is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.

See more ‘Postcards from Prague’ here.

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