The walls of both the courtyard and the stairway bear one of the most famous murals by Diego Rivera
The national palace takes up the eastern side of the Zócalo. Built on the site of the Palace of Moctezuma, the building originally served as a residence for Mexico’s first colonial master, Cortés. Initially, it was a fortress-like structure with heavy armaments and fortified towers, which soon became the Vicreregal Palace when it was sold to the crown in 1562. It was subsequently destroyed by angry mobs and rebuilt in colonial baroque in 1692. It has a facade of red volcanic stone called tezontle and the top floor was added by President Calles in the 1920s. The Palacio Nacional houses various government departments including the treasury. Over the central door hangs the Liberty Bell, rung every year at 2300 on 15 September by the president, who commemorates independence from Spain and gives El Grito: ‘¡Viva México!’ The act declaring Mexican Independence was signed in the Salon of Agreements and Benito Juárez lived in the palace during his tenure as president, with his death mask and some personal effects retained for posterity.
On the first and second floors of the Palacio Nacional, on the left as one enters the great courtyard, an area formerly occupied by government offices has been transformed into elegant galleries. But the real attractions here are the superb frescoes by Diego Rivera that flank the staircase and two walls of the first floor. The right-hand panel by the staircase (1929) depicts pre-Hispanic Mexico. The large central panel (275 sq m, started 1929, finished 1935) shows the history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930, and the panel on the left is known as El mundo de hoy y de mañana (The World Today and Tomorrow, 1934). The first fresco (4.92 m by 9.71 m) on the first floor is known variously as La gran Tenochtitlán and El mercado de tlatelolco (1945), and shows the market of Tlatelolco against a background of the ancient city of Tenochtitlán. There follow representations of various indigenous cultures – Purépecha, Mixteca-Zapoteca, Totonaca and Huasteca (the last showing the cultivation and worship of maize) – culminating in the final fresco, which shows in narrative form the arrival of Hernán Cortés in Veracruz. These murals were completed between 1942 and 1951.
Postcards of the murals are for sale, but much better reproductions of the same works are available in most museums in the city....