Dominating the northern side of the Zocalo in the Centro Historico, the historic quarter of Mexico City, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic Cathedral in the Americas.
Its formal name is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (or, in Spanish: Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos).
There are other ornate cathedrals in the Americas, but this one is the largest and has one of the longest histories.
It was built in stages over the course of 1573 to 1813, gradually replacing a church that was built on the site when the Spanish first conquered Tenochtitlan. And the site is no accident–it was deliberately constructed next to the Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztecs in their capital city of Tenochtitlan. Even the stones used to construct the cathedral were plundered (or recycled, depending on your perspective) from the Aztec temple.
The exterior of the cathedral, with its gothic styling and weathered gray stone, somehow manages to look heavy and even somewhat drab despite its ornamentation, the gray stone looking far more like it should be in cold and dark Europe than in Central America.
But step in inside and you’re immediately greeted, by the glistening, large, and ornate gold Altar of Forgiveness. It is here that many of the cathedral’s day-to-day services are held. But it is just a preview of what lies beyond.
There’s an even larger altar, the Altar of the Kings, on the northern wall that stretches up to the towering ceiling. It manages to be even more ornate. And lining the sides of the nave are sixteen smaller chapels, each unique and ornate (only about four are open to visitors).
Step into the sacristy, on the northeast corner (when it’s open), and you’re greeted by yet another explosion of color and detail. Renaissance and Gothic art stretch from floor to the arched dome ceiling with a variety of religious scenes depicted.
Photos of Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral
What To Know Before You Go
More About The Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
The Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, is a prominent architectural and religious landmark in Mexico City. Located in the historic center, the cathedral is not only the largest and oldest church in Latin America but also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico.
Constructed between 1573 and 1813, the cathedral showcases a blend of architectural styles, such as Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Renaissance, reflecting the various stages of its construction. The facade comprises four sections, each adorned with intricately carved columns, statues, and reliefs. The bell towers house a total of 25 bells, with the Santa Maria de Guadalupe bell, weighing around 13,000 kg, being the largest.
The cathedral’s interior is home to 16 chapels, each dedicated to a different saint and exhibiting unique artistic treasures, including paintings, sculptures, and altarpieces. Among the most noteworthy elements are the gilded Altar of the Kings, the Choir area with its ornately carved wooden seats, and the 18th-century organ, one of the largest in the Americas.
As a result of Mexico City’s unstable subsoil, the cathedral has experienced significant sinking and tilting, which has necessitated ongoing restoration efforts. The preservation work includes measures to reinforce the foundation, adjust the building’s inclination, and restore artworks and structural elements affected by the movement.