Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City’s Cathedral of Art

Originally designed to house the national theater, the Palacio de Bellas Artes has become a cultural hub in arguably the most beautiful building in Mexico City.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes was built in the early 20th century to house the national theater, but it has become more than that. Some call it the “Cathedral of Art in Mexico.” It has become a cultural hub of Mexico City–in addition to containing two theaters, there are important murals on display and a rotating architectural exhibition inside. Outside, it sits on the end of the Alameda Central park, a popular and scenic spot for locals to gather on a pleasant early evening amidst the hubbub of the city the sounds and the unevenly tuned melodies of the organilleros.

The building is also widely regarded as the most beautiful in Mexico City. It’s an unusual mix of Art Nouveau and Neo Classical on the outside and soaring Art Deco on the inside. It makes for a striking combination, but it somehow works. It was conceived around 1905 but not actually completed until the mid-1930s.

The most eye-catching feature from the outside is the colorful roof dominated by three cupolas covered with orange and yellow tiles. On top of the main cupola is a cluster of statues depicting a Mexican eagle and figures representing the dramatic arts.

The roof sits atop a Neo Classical structure clad in Italian marble and lined with columns and statues representing the dramatic arts.

Inside is quite different. It’s a bit like an Art Deco movie set, with strong, sharp lines and richly colored marbles. After a small entrance hall, you move up a short flight of steps to the main atrium. In here, you’re standing directly under the domes that you see on the outside.

Lining balconies around each floor in the atrium are exhibitions. The most striking is the permanent display of large murals by painters such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Mostly dating to the 1930s through the 1950s, the murals sometimes explode out of their space and start creeping out along the ceiling.

The very top floor is devoted to the Museo Nacional de Arquitectura (National Museum of Architecture), which has a rotating exhibit related to Mexican architects and architecture.

Photos of Palacio de Bellas Artes

A large painting by Mexican painter Diego Rivera titled “Man, Controller of the Universe” (1934). Rivera recreated an earlier painting that had been at the Rockefeller Center in New York but that was ordered destroyed by John D. Rockefeller. In his second version, Rivera added a few additional touches, including depicting Rockefeller drinking with a woman at nightclub (Rockefeller was a teetotaler) with a dish of syphilis bacteria hanging over them.

A 1936 fresco mural by Diego Rivera titled “Carnival of Mexican Life” (Carnaval de la vida mexicana).

A 1934-35 mural painting by Jose Clemente Orozco titled “Catharsis” (Katharsis).

A view from the top of the Torre Latinoamericana.

A 1934-35 mural painting by Jose Clemente Orozco titled “Catharsis” (Katharsis).

A scale model of the Palacio de Bellas Artes that shows the interior cutaway.

“New Democracy” (1944) by David Alfara Siqueiros.

Another view from the top of the Torre Latinoamericana, looking north.

Part of a 1936 fresco mural by Diego Rivera titled “Carnival of Mexican Life” (Carnaval de la vida mexicana).

The marble-lined entrance hall. The box office counters are in this hall.

A section of a large painting by Mexican painter Diego Rivera titled “Man, Controller of the Universe” (1934). This section depicts Leon Trotski, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx.

Statues on top of the main dome of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. At top is a Mexican eagle. Underneath that is a series of figures representing the dramatic arts.

Looking up at the cupolas from the floor of the main atrium.

A 1934-35 mural painting by Jose Clemente Orozco titled “Catharsis” (Katharsis).

“New Democracy” (1944) by David Alfara Siqueiros.

What to Know Before You Go

The park area around the building is open 24 hours. To enter the building you’ll need to pass through a security checkpoint. You’ll then be in the main entrance hall, which is where the box office counters are, along with an up-scale restaurant and large bookstore focusing on art and performance.

To get up to the exhibits on the upper floors you’ll need a museum ticket. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 5:30pm. A single adult ticket costs 62 pesos. There are various categories for free entry, including kids under 13, seniors over 60, students with ID, etc. If you want to take photos or video you’ll need to pay a supplement of 30 pesos.

The official website is here.

It’s located six blocks west of the Zocalo, on the end of Alameda Central park.

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