If you are in Mexico City you should see how Trotsky spent his final years (and minutes)...

Trotsky's study, portrait and memorial in the grounds

LEON TROTSKY's little fortress in Coyoacan, Mexico City.

Fleeing from the wrath of Stalin, Trotsky's exile saw him live for periods in Turkey, France and Norway, before arriving in Mexico in 1937. Fearing assassination by Stalin's henchmen, he converted the house into a mini fortress, with high walls, steel shutters and a watchtower. It's basic and quite homely inside, but thanks to many windows having been bricked up, there's a gloominess and a decidedly claustrophobic atmosphere. Stepping through his bedroom door made me feel like I was in a submarine, the door was large, hatch-like, raised off the floor, thick and heavy.

Trotsky's bedroom (with steel shutters) and bathroom

The place is much as Trotsky left it, even down to the smashed pair of spectacles that are lying on his study's desk that were knocked off during his assassination. The brutal attack happened here on August 20, 1940, when Trotsky sat down to read a manuscript from his secretary’s bogus boyfriend. But the boyfriend was in fact a Stalinist agent who then lunged at Trotsky with what must now be the world's most infamous ice pick. So Trotsky, the charismatic revolutionary, couldn't outrun Stalin's vengeance and he died the next day.

The fortified house seen from the street, Trotsky at peace with his rabbits, and the hutches today

A new wing has been added to house Trotsky’s archive — a large collection of photos, clippings and personal effects. But I suspect that it was probably in the courtyard, with his beloved rabbits and collection of rare rare cacti, that he found snatched moments of peace. His ashes now lie there, inside a stone memorial surrounded by cacti and with a hammer and sickle carved on the side.

A highlight of my visit was briefly meeting his grandson, Esteban Volkov, who was instrumental in preserving the home and Trotsky's memory in the city. He's still on the board of the museum and is 90 years old.

It's hard not to leave the house and it's hemmed in garden without feeling sombre, but a short walk away down the quiet wide streets of the posh suburb of Coyacan, is an altogether different house museum. The former home of Mexican painter Freda Kahlo is also now a museum. But whereas I was the only visitor inside Trotsky's home and had the place to myself, there were long queues and a happy buzz at Kahlo's colourful home and studio. As it happens Kahlo and Trotsky had an affair; reflected on in the 2002 film 'Freda', which incidentally has an excellent and haunting soundtrack. 

Trotsky with Freda Kahlo; and Kahlo's strikingly vivid house museum


More information: For more information see Museo Trotsky and Museo Frida Kahlo. And for info on Mexico there's Visit Mexico