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The Palace of the School of Medicine is today in the building which served for many years as the Palace of the Inquisition. At the corner of Republic of Brazil and Republic of Venezuela, it’s on the corner of the Plaza de Santo Domingo.
The complex’s long association with the Spanish Inquisition ended only during the Mexican War of Independence. But for that, it wasn’t easy to find another use for the building. Eventually, the National School of Medicine moved in. But, as luck would have it, in the 1950s, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) moved to Ciudad Universitaria. UNAM held onto the building and after another lapse in time it was converted into the Museum of Mexican Medicine.
The building standing today was built between 1732 and 1736 by architect, Pedro de Arrieta. He had done significant work prior to this on the Metropolitan Cathedral, most importantly with his Chapel of All Souls, and the La Profesa Temple. He also designed the Temple of Santo Domingo just across the square.
Although Arrieta grew famous for this work, he’d died just shortly after finishing the Palace of the Inquisition, for which he received a daily salary of two pesos. Arrieta’s original two-story building had a third floor added in the 19th century.
The outside is clad in tezontle with windows and doors framed in gray-white chiluca stone. As the seat of the Holy Inquisition in the Vice-Royalty of New Spain, the Court of the Holy Inquisition was established in 1571. The Dominicans from the Temple of Santo Domingo had already been charged with inquisitorial functions in 1526.
As headquarters of the Inquisition, the building had hearing rooms, trial rooms, secret chambers, a prison, and living quarters for two inquisitors. Then popularly known as the “Casa Chata,” referring to the blunted southwest corner facing the Plaza de Santo Domingo. This is something of an innovation for normally square viceregal palace buildings.
The dungeon section of the palace was known as the “perpetual prison,” as few ever left after being confined there.
But the power and importance of the office arrived here because Martín Cortés Zúñiga, son of Hernán Cortés took part in a conspiracy to break the Vice-Royalty away from Spain already in 1566. He and his co-conspirators were tried, denounced and then tortured and otherwise punished under severe penalties. The same court went on to persecute the Carbajal family fir reverting to Judaism among others. Later they’d also sentence Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla to death, after excommunicating him. The Inquisition was only dissolved in 1821 upon the achievement of Mexican independence.
The Palace of the School of Medicine Museum holds very curious exhibitions of the history of medicine in the country. Exhibition halls include displays on reconstructive surgery, waxworks from the 19th century, histology, herbal medicine, botanical gardens, pre-Hispanic medicine, and embryology. There’s also a vice-regal portrait gallery, 19th century pharmacy display.
It’s a great way to see the building, and to learn something too. The museum is closed only on Mondays.
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