Palacio Nacional (the National Palace) is the seat of the federal executive in Mexico. It’s located on Mexico City’s main square, the Plaza de la Constitución (El Zócalo). This site has been a palace for the ruling class of Mexico since the Aztec empire, and much of its building materials are from the original edifice that belonged to Moctezuma II.
The Palace has fourteen courtyards but only a few of these, such as the Grand Courtyard beyond the central portal, are open to the public. The National Palace also houses the main State Archives, with many interesting historical documents, and the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, one of the largest and most important libraries in the country.
The north annex of the building houses the Treasury Room and the Benito Juárez Museum. Between the two is the Empress Stairway, built by brothers Juan and Ramón Agea. The Treasury Room is no longer in use. Leading to the museum part of the complex, which used to be the Finance Ministry, is a statue of Benito Juárez by Miguel Noreña. This work was criticised at the time it was inaugurated because it was felt that such an honoured person should not be depicted sitting on his coattails, as it was contrary to social etiquette at the time. In the Finance Ministry patio is the Benito Juárez Room, where the president lived by the end of his term and where he died on July 18, 1872. The bedroom, living room and study have been preserved, complete with a number of objects belonging to the president.
On the upper floor is what once was the Theatre Room of the viceroys, which became the Chamber of Deputies from 1829 to 1872, when the room was accidentally destroyed by fire. In this parliamentary chamber the Reform Constitution of 1857 was written. This document and the Constitution of 1917 are on display.
Used and classified as a Government Building, the National Palace, with its red tezontle façade, fills the entire east side of the Zócalo, measuring over 200 metres.
The façade is bordered on the north and south by two towers and include three main doorways, each of which lead to a different part of the building. The southern door leads to the Patio of Honour and presidential offices (no public access). The northern door is known as the Mariana Door, named in honour of Mariano Arista who had it constructed in 1850. The area next to this door used to be the old Court Prison, with courtrooms and torture chambers. It is now occupied by the Finance Ministry. It contains the Treasury Room, constructed by architects Manuel Ortiz Monasterio and Vicente Mendiola. The iron and bronze door is the work of Augusto Petriccioli.
Above the central doorway, facing the Zócalo, is the main balcony where just before 11pm on September 15, the president of Mexico gives the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), in a ceremony to commemorate Mexican Independence. A part of this ceremony includes ringing the bell that hangs above the balcony. This bell is the original one that Father Miguel Hidalgo rang to call for rebellion against Spain. It originally hung in the church of Dolores Hidalgo in Guanajuato, but was relocated here. In the niche containing the bell there is the Mexican coat of arms. On each side there is an Aztec eagle knight and his Spanish counterpart. These were sculpted by Manuel Centurion and represent the synthesis of Mexican and Spanish culture.
The central door leads to the main patio which is surrounded by Baroque arches. Only the balustrade of this area has been remodelled, conserving the murals by Diego Rivera that adorn the main stairwell and the walls of the second floor. In the stairwell is a mural depicting the history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930, which covers an area of 450 square metres. These murals were painted between 1929 and 1935, jointly titled ‘The Epic of the Mexican People’. The work is divided like a triptych with each being somewhat autonomous. The right-hand wall contains murals depicting pre-Hispanic Mexico and the life of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcóatl appears in the mural as a star, a god, and a human being.
In the middle and largest panel, the Conquest is depicted with its ugliness, such as rape and torture, as well as priests defending the rights of the indigenous people. The battle for independence occupies the uppermost part of this panel in the arch. The American and French invasions are represented below this, as well as the Reform period and the Revolution.
The left-hand panel is dedicated to early and mid-20th century, criticising the status quo and depicting a Marxist kind of utopia, featuring the persons of Plutarco Elías Calles, John D. Rockefeller, Harry Sinclair, William Durant, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Mellon as well as Karl Marx. This part of the mural also includes Frida Kahlo, Diego’s wife. This mural reflects Diego’s own personal views about Mexico’s history and the indigenous people of the country in particular.
Because of work related to the construction of Metro Line 2 and the acceleration of the sinking of many of the buildings in the historic centre, the basic structure of the Palace suffered deterioration, requiring work to secure the building’s foundation.
During this work, the old column bases of the Viceroy Palace were found, as well as old cedar rafters with their brackets, which were used to form the foundation of the first floor.