Palacio de Bellas Artes

A mergence of neo-Classical and Art Deco styles, the ostentatious cultural building in the Centro Historico portion of Mexico City is a wonder to behold. A solitary eagle, wings outstretched as he prepares for flight, crowns the yellow-gold dome, while an orchestra of sculpted icons frame the elaborately carved marble entrance. If buildings may be considered art in their own right, few can be compared to the overwhelming Italian-inspired grandeur of the Palacio de Bellas Artes - now an iconic cultural symbol of Latin America.

Built upon the former site of Convent de Santa Isabel in 1932, the Palacio de Bellas Artes was initially commissioned as a stately theater. Over 25 years in the making, the early 20th Century building suffered a great many setbacks after initial permission was given by Porfirio Diaz in 1904, not least of which included subsidence due to the soft, clay-like soils. Design of the Palacio was entrusted to Italian architect Adamo Boari – also responsible for Palacio de Correos (directly opposite the Palacio de Bellas Artes) and the monument of Porfirio Díaz, erected in 1890 within the Centro Historico of Mexico City. Fulfilling both its original purpose as an opera/ theater house, as well as an exposition center for the city's finest works of art, Palacio de Bellas Artes is a must see for any culture vulture.

In stark contrast to the exterior, the halls of Palacio de Bellas Artes take great inspiration from the French Art Deco movement – an inspiration which latter Franco architect Federico Mariscal exploited to its fullest, with swathes of veined Carrera marble and huge arced windows for ambient natural light. The ground floor is almost entirely dedicated to indigenous cultures, exemplifying exuberant Maya Chaac masks and angular serpent sculptures beneath each window. A wide, jet black marble staircase leads up the mezzanine to the theater, within which the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico and opera productions are staged. If you get the chance for a peek during “dark” hours, check out the huge stage curtain designed by Tiffany & Co of New York. Depicting a lucid replication of the Valley of Mexico from thousands of tiny glass shards, thousands of visitors descend in their droves just to see this show stopper!

Muralists feature prominently upon the second and third floors at the Palacio – whole walls dedicated to the works of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. With traceable ancestry to Zapotec origin, much of Rufino Tamayo's work reflects his indigenous roots – chiefly noticeable within “Birth of Nationality”, his post-impressionist feat of 1952. Ever an opportunist when it came to portraying famous scenes of Mexican history, David Alfaro Siqueiros features prominently on the third floor, with the graphic “Torment of Cuauhtemoc” and triptych “La Nueva Democracía”. Mexico's infamous son Diego Rivera is the real allure, with over thirty of his self-commissioned pieces scattered throughout this vibrant space. Seeing the nation through the eyes of her most cherished artist, one cannot help fall in love with the romanticism of Mexico.

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Spanish version of this page: Palacio de Bellas Artes