P.za de la Constitución S/N, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06066 Ciudad de México, CDMX
The Palacio Nacional in the heart of the historic center of Mexico City was constructed shortly after the conquest of Tenochtitlán on top of the ruins of the palace of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, the first Tlatoani (Aztec emperor) to have established contact with Hernán Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors. This “National Palace” now hosts the Benito Juárez house/museum and is the seat of the federal executive branch of power. It’s located right next to the Plaza de la Constitución (“Plaza of the Constitution”) better known as the “Zócalo”. The building is decorated inside with murals that were painted by renowned artist Diego Rivera and which depict the entire history of Mexico, from the ancient times of the pre-Columbine era to the XX century. For those who admire this particular Mexican muralist, this work titled “The History of Mexico” is truly one of his most awe-inspiring pieces of work.
The old Palace of Moctezuma was destroyed and now it only lives in the stories and legends of that era, such as the letters that Cortes sent to the Spanish kings, describing it as a lavish and monumental place. Cortes originally envisioned his new building to be a fortress with three interior courtyards. His descendants eventually sold the building to the Spanish crown for it to be the palace of the viceroys of New Spain. After the Independence of Mexico, the name of the landmark was changed to its final version, “The National Palace”.
Admission to the palace is free (although you do need to present a valid form of ID, such as a passport) and a tour of the landmark normally lasts between 1 and 2 hours, it’s open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are tour guides available but only if you want a fully detailed explanation of Rivera’s mural.
One thing that’s special about the palace is that right above the main entrance is the Campana de Dolores (“Bell of Dolores”) which is the original bell that priest Miguel Hidalgo rang on the eve of Independence in 1810, signaling the revolt that would end in the independence of Mexico from the Spanish monarchy 10 years later. The event took place in the town of Dolores, in the state of Hidalgo (which bears the priest’s name in his honor) but that was moved to the palace of the president in Mexico City many years later.
Every 15 of September, the day that Independence is celebrated, the President of Mexico steps out into the balcony below the bell and rings it himself, shouting “Viva Mexico!” and “Viva Miguel Hidalgo!” to a huge gathering of Mexicans down at the Zocalo and many millions more watching in their homes.