The Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico (Real y Pontificia Universidad de México) is a university founded by Royal Decree in 1551. Widely considered the first university founded in North America, the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, had been chartered a few months earlier.
Renamed the University of Mexico after Mexican Independence, the 19th century saw many attempts to close the “pontifical” part of the school. When it was definitively closed in 1865, many of its secular departments, among them law and medicine, continued operating.
At the very twilight of the Porfirato period, these decentralized colleges of higher education were merged under Justo Sierra Méndez. He was then the leading voice of the infamous Cientificos, Porfirio Díaz’s intellectual cabal. The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) was thus founded.
The UNAM Hoy Museum occupies one of the original universty’s buildings. The museum’s mission is relay the importance of both institutions to the history of the City and the country. The museum is part of the UNAM Institute for Research on the University and Education.
Visitors to the museum see a window into the area’s archaeological significance. Displays include the remains of an ancient temple, colonial walls, a 19th-century staircase, and just some of the many artifacts discovered during the building’s renovations.
Subsequent galleries cover the presence of the old university district. Nearly all of it was within the city center. Most prominent are the Old College of San Ildefonso and the Academy of San Carlos. Many other building make up the university’s footprint on the city center.
A more detailed timeline of the history of the university follows. A digital map delineates the UNAM’s presence throughout the country. This includes many divergent scientific research centers in truly far flung places.
The university’s literary, bibliographic, and media production centers precedes a display of the many awards and honors the school has received over the years.
Parts of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, although not part of the Museo UNAM Hoy, can be visited at the UNAM Palace of Autonomy just down calle Monedas.