National Palace (Palacio Nacional) is along Av. Pino Suárez, facing the e. side of the Zócalo (M: Zócalo, line 2). This grand building dates from the late 17th century (a third floor was added in 1926) and has housed the offices of Mexican government officials since 1821.
It took Diego Rivera and his assistants, mounted on scaffolds, some 25 years to execute the sweeping, lavishly detailed historical murals that decorate the upper level of the central courtyard and the walls of the main staircase. They show centuries of history, from romantically idealized views of Aztec life before the arrival of Hernando Cortés to the bloody 1910 Revolution. Rivera's themes of class struggle, industrialization, the plight of the common worker and bourgeois decadence are vividly depicted. These magnificent works of art are the main reason to visit.
Hanging over the central doorway is the Independence Bell, tolled by Father Miguel Hidalgo in 1810 to proclaim Mexican independence from Spain; on Sept. 15 Mexico's president rings the bell in an annual ceremonial re-enactment of Hidalgo's plea for freedom.
There also are two museums. The Benito Juárez Museum consists of several large rooms displaying furnishings, manuscripts, artwork and other artifacts associated with the former Mexican president; the Parliamentary Museum has elegant fabric-covered walls, gold chandeliers, flags and the formal “well” used for parliamentary sessions. At the palace's far end is a lovely, relaxing garden with benches and stone fountains.
Note: A photo ID is required to enter the building. There may be a wait in line, since only a limited number of visitors are allowed inside at any given time. Public restrooms are available.