The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts, former National Theater, is located in the historic center of Mexico City. It is the most important cultural space for the promotion of the arts in the country for all the museum, artistic and musical activity that it houses in its different spaces.

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It is a majestic building, cultural and architectural icon of the capital city, which welcomes in its bosom different artistic expressions. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 by UNESCO. It houses various institutions and companies such as the National Museum of Architecture, Palace Museum of Fine Arts, National Opera Company, National Dance Company, Folkloric Ballet of Mexico by Amalia Hernández. Get to know in the following lines the most famous theater and performance hall in Mexico where the most important political, musical and cultural events of the country have taken place.


When talking about the Palace of Fine Arts and its history, it is necessary to link it to the old National Theater dating from the mid-nineteenth century. This was the most important space in Mexico for the promotion of culture and the arts. When the twentieth century arrived, the need arose to undertake projects to beautify the city and especially its historic center. Mexico City merited an expansion of its spaces for the cultural offer, renovate or restore the old ones and at the same time incorporate structures that gave it an air of modernity.

At first it was considered to renovate the National Theater to give the city an auditorium of greater amplitude and according to the new times, however it was decided to demolish it and undertake the construction of a new one despite the fact that these works began. The new National Theater, later called the Palace of Fine Arts, would be located next to the Alameda Central, on the grounds of the old Convent of Santa Isabel closed in 1861 after meticulous studies to choose its best location. Its construction was subject to important historical events since the works began in 1904 under the regime of Porfirio Díaz and it was estimated to be completed in four years. Budgetary problems delayed it until the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910.

After the political problems and the economic recession, its architect the Italian Adamo Boari decides to return to his country leaving the façade and the exterior part finished but not the dome. After a period of inactivity in its construction, work resumed in 1930. It can be seen that before the date its spaces were used for important events in the city since there was a great interest for the capital to have its theater finished. The architect Federico E. Mariscal was in charge of the culmination project under the presidency of Pascual Ortiz Rubio being 1932 the year in which the works are undertaken with the order to conceive a multifunctional space.

The heavy investment it merited and the obligation to complete imposes that it be decreed as an artistic institution of public utility and social character, where several museums would operate. The change of name from the National Theatre to the Palace of Fine Arts was assumed and was completed by March 1934. On September 29 of that year it was formally inaugurated under the presidency of Abelardo L. Rodríguez, with the presentation of the play by Juan Ruiz de Alarcón La verdad sospechosa in function of gala. From 1993 to 2010, construction work was carried out on the underground parking lot and restoration in the area of the stalls, tramoya, platform, stage, moat, acoustics, exhibition halls of the museums and the domes.

Its Architecture

The architectural style of the Palace of Fine Arts on its exterior façade is neoclassical and the interior responds to Art Nouveau, a style very much in vogue for the time in the United States and Europe. The predominant materials for the structure were concrete and marble-coated steel. The bronze sculpture that adorns the dome is by the Hungarian artist Géza Maróti. There are four women who represent the four theatrical genres: drama, lyrical drama, tragedy and comedy, crowned with an eagle devouring a snake, national symbology belonging to the Mayan Mexican cosmogony.

In this same style are incorporated images in blacksmithing of the god Chaac and Tlaloc inside, gods of rain in both cultures respectively as well as a jaguar warrior and an eagle warrior on the arches of the side doors. The architect Mariscal, upon resuming the work, decides to change Boari’s original project and replaces the initial ornamentation with the Art Deco style.

The marble sculptures that adorn the façade of the enclosure were commissioned by the responsible architect to the artists Leonardo Bistolfi and André-Joseph Allar. The construction of the Palace on clay soil has caused the sinking of its bases and this displacement can be observed when compared to the edge of the street.

The Museum Activity at the Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was conceived as a heritage institution regent of art and culture. In its bosom it hosts several artistic expressions, one of them being the museum activity. On November 29, 1934, the Museum of Plastic Arts, considered the most important in Mexico, opened its doors. At that time it has within its collections paintings of the sixteenth century, popular art, mural painting of that year made by the artists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, a room of Mesoamerican sculpture and a room of Mexican print.

It changes its name twice. The first, with the construction of the Palace of Fine Arts, the National Institute of Fine Arts was created and changed its name to the National Museum of Plastic Arts in 1947 thanks to the museographer and promoter Fernando Gamboa, together with the painters Julio Castellano and Julio Prieto who modified the project and expanded the vision of Mexican art with an ambitious educational program and a publication plan that promoted national art.

Then, since 1968 it is called the Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts and with it the system of art museums in Mexico was born and energized. Among its most precious collections, there are the works that represent the famous Mexican muralism movement. There are 17 murals that make up this collection made by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, Jorge González Camarena, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano and Roberto Montenegro. The oldest mural dates from 1928 by Roberto Montenegro called “Allegory of the Wind” and moved to the Museum in 1965. We can name the murals that stand out as “The man controlling the universe” of 1934 by Diego Rivera.

This mural was commissioned from the painter for the Rockefeller Center in New York but was vituperated and dismantled because the piece included a portrait of the Soviet communist leader Lenin. There is also a diptych or two murals integrated into a theme: “Tormento de Cuauhtémoc” and “Apotheosis of Cuauhtémoc”, from 1950-1951, by David Alfaro Siqueiros; “Katharsis” by José Clemente Orozco, from 1934-1935; and “Nacimiento de Nuestra Nacionalidad”, 1952, by Rufino Tamayo. These pieces are some of those that make up this famous collection of renowned Mexican muralists and that are part of the cultural heritage of humanity. Traveling exhibitions of classical and contemporary art by Mexican and foreign artists are also organized.

The Palace of Fine Arts also houses other museums such as the National Museum of Architecture, inaugurated in 1984 on the fourth floor and through the exhibition of permanent or itinerant collections, promotes the Mexican architectural heritage. Among the most renowned architects exhibited in the museum are Jaime Ortiz Monasterio, Adamo Boari and Carlos Mijares Bracho.

Main Room for shows and another

Inside the Palace of Fine Arts it also has beautiful spaces for the dissemination and promotion of culture and art. The Main Hall is a stage that hosts the seasons of presentations of the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Opera Company, the National Theater Company and the National Dance Company. Its capacity has capacity for 1,677 people and a stage with 24 meters in length.

It was provided by a spectacular fire curtain commissioned to the Tiffany house in New York, unique in the world found in any opera house and assembled like a puzzle of a million pieces of opalescent glass that portrays the valley of Mexico and the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes. Its ceiling is adorned by a beautiful lamp designed by the Hungarian artist Gezza Maroti with Apollo surrounded by the muses of art as a motif.

The Main Hall has hosted memorable shows of various genres. Remembered are the presentations of the Opera season with a regal Maria Callas singing at the Opera Aida, Norma and Rigoletto. Great symphony orchestras of the world and various musical genres such as jazz, popular music in addition to Ballet and traditional dance have also been presented. This room has also served for the realization of the funerals and wakes of present body of great Mexican and foreign personalities who contributed to art and culture in Mexico.

Another room, second in importance, is the Manuel M. Ponce Room, in recognition of this illustrious Mexican musician. Located on the first floor offers literary, musical, operatic activities and exhibitions to list a few. The palace also has the Adamo Boari Room, an auditorium where lectures, exhibitions and editorial presentations are held, located under the lobby of the Main Hall.

The Palace of Fine Arts continues to be the most important space in Mexico for the training, dissemination and promotion of art, culture and entertainment. It is the natural setting for major political and social events. In recent years it has been linked to certain controversies. It has been denounced the alteration of the art deco style of its Main Hall incorporating modern features that break with the original design and that violate according to the restoration standards of ancient theaters of UNESCO. It remains only to bet on the upcoming restorations to integrate or soften the adoptions to the new style, which result in an eclectic and happily integrated ornamentation for the enjoyment of Mexicans.


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