History, Art and Culture at the National Museum

Located in the majestic National Palace of Culture in Managua’s historic center, the national Museum is a treasure trove of interesting information on Nicaragua’s history, culture, art, traditions and various ethnic groups. The two-storey building has nine rooms with a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions, many of which are presented with a specific theme.

The many rivers, lakes and volcanoes of Nicaragua have led to the country being known as the land of ‘fire and water’. The museum’s Natural History Room offers insight into the historical and current geology of Nicaragua with maps indicating the areas where various minerals are found, along with samples of many of those minerals, as well as information on the country’s climatic conditions.

Although investigating the fossil record of Nicaragua has not been given high priority, the Paleontology Room offers some interesting exhibits of the bones of gigantic prehistoric mammals which have been found in various parts of the country. These include parts of a mastodon recovered from the municipality of Tola in the Rivas Department, the bones of a whale found in Managua’s San Rafael del Norte Municipality, and bones of a large anteater discovered in the area of Estelí. Paleontologists have determined that Mastodons – large elephant type mammals – most likely became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene era around 11,000 years ago. San Rafael del Norte Municipality is one of Nicaragua’s highest municipalities with its main town at an elevation of more than 3,000 feet, and yet the bones of a whale where found there, giving some idea of the enormous changes the land has gone through over the years as the world’s continents where shaped into what we see today.

The Room of Pre-Columbian Ceramics features a wide variety of ceramics from different sites and different cultures mainly in the Pacific and northern regions of Nicaragua. Grouped by date, the exhibit contains some superbly preserved and restored statuettes, utensils, containers, funeral urns and jewelry, with samples highlighting how the various techniques in shaping and finishing the items has evolved over the years.

Food gathering and processing has always been of importance to communities, and the museum’s Metate Room is dedicated to the stone instruments, referred to as mutates, used by various indigenous tribes to process corn – a crop that continues to be of great importance in Nicaragua, featuring prominently in Nicaraguan cuisine. Metates were generally shaped from hardwearing volcanic rock, and although they served a practical purpose, were often decorated with intricate designs and animal figures.

Other categories at the National Museum of Nicaragua include the Traditional Art Room, the Room of Latin American Paintings, the Room for Friends and Supporters of Art and Culture, the Güegüense Room, and the Rodrigo Peñalba Room, which will be discussed in a future article.