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The Franz Mayer Museum holds at least some of the collection of the German-born photographer and philanthropist Franz Mayer. In fact, there’s only room for about 25% of the collection at this fascinating site. The Plaza de Santa Veracruz serves as an entrance plaza for the museum, and for the Church of Santa Veracruz, as well as the National Printmaking Museum.
Having arrived in Mexico in 1905, Mayer began seriously collecting in 1923. In 1963, he established a trust to look after what was by then an enormous collection. Today’s it’s primarily a decorative arts museum, but temporary exhibits often include books, graphic design, photography, industrial design. The museum only opened in 1986, 11 years after Mayer’s death. It’s been a continual tribute to the collector, and to the city ever since.
The permanent collection includes ceramics, silverware, textiles, furniture, sculpture and painting, feather art, lacquer ware, ivory, tortoiseshell, enamels and glass. Works range from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
The historic building was once a grain mill and warehouse. It was, in 1582, converted to a hospital and served in the capacity for 400 years. In fact, the founder was one Pedro López, the first medical doctor to graduate from the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, today’s UNAM.
The Hospital de los Desamparados came under the auspices of monks of the Order of San Juan de Dios in 1604. They were largely responsible for the character of the architectural structure you can see today. It’s primarily an 18th century complex. The cloister, most of today’s museum, is connected to the Church of San Juan de Dios. The order though, along with all religious orders were expelled from the building in 1820. The hospital administration then passed to the Mexico City government.
Maximilian of Habsburg decreed it a hospital especially for prostitutes. Though the hospital specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases, it remained an important women’s hospital under varying names for several years. In 1931 it was declared a historical monument.
In 1981, the Federal Government granted the Old Hospital of San Juan de Dios to the Franz Mayer Cultural Trust. After a year rehabilitating the property, a historical monument was saved and the Franz Mayer Museum opened its doors.
The museum library holds nearly 22,000 volumes. This includes works from the 15th to the 21st centuries, many of them rare and outstanding. The collection covers decorative arts, design, and Mexican history as well as an entire section of editions of Don Quijote. There are 800 different copies in some 18 languages all published before 1905. The library is named for the founding President of the Board of Trustees.
Westbound Turibus Historic Center Circuit buses stop directly outside the museum on the Avenida Hidalgo. Eastbound buses will be directly across the Alameda Central on the other side of the Juárez Hemicycle. The walk from one side to the other takes about five minutes.