The Cathedral, which dominates the Zócalo square on the north side as the National Palace does on the east, is one of the oldest and largest churches in the western hemisphere. It stands on the south-western part of the old Azrec temple precinct, once occupied by the Wall of Skulls (Tzompantli) and the Temple of Xipe Tótec. The original building, begun in 1525, was later partly demolished and partly rebuilt; the present structure dates from 1563, although the definitive plans were prepared at the end of the 16th c. and the beginning of the 17th by the architects Claudio de Arciniega, Juan Gómez de Mora and Alonso Pérez de Castañeda.
Although the construction of this massive building of basalt and grey sandstone extended over more than 250 years and thus shows a mingling of various styles, it nevertheless achieves a notably harmonious effect. In spite of the two openwork towers in Neo-Classical style and certain other features, the façade creates a predominantly Baroque impression with its massive volutes and pairs of twisted columns. The bell-towers, by José Damián Ortiz de Castro, were completed in 1793, the statues (attributed to Manuel Tolsá) of Faith, Hope and Charity on the clock-tower were done in 1813. The bells are unusual in their method of hanging and vary greatly in size; one of them, known as "Guadalupe", weighs no less than 5600kg (5.5 tonnes).
The Cathedral, with a main nave and two lateral aisles on either side, is 118 m (387 ft) long, 54 m (177 ft) wide and 55 m (180 ft) high. There are fourteen subsidiary altars as well as the high altar. Like the exterior, the interior shows a mingling of all the different styles and fashions prevailing during the colonial period. Its great glory is the richly carved Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes, 1718-39) behind the high altar, with a retablo by Jerónimo de Balbás, a sculptor of the Churrigueresque school from Seville. The retablo, which follows the form of the apse, has paintings by Juan Rodriguez, including an Adoration of the Kings ("La Adoración de los Reyes") and an Assumption ("Asunción de María"), to which the Cathedral is dedicated. The chapel west of the high altar contains the mortal remains of the Mexican Emperor Agustin de Iturbide. In the third chapel on the left from the main doorway note the statue of the "Señor del Cacao", which dates prior to the original church and to which the Indians offered their contribution towards the cost of building the Cathedral in the form of cocoa-beans. The other chapels and side altars contain some notable pictures, mainly of the Baroque period.
The very fine carved cedarwood choir-stalls (by Juan de Rojas, 1696) were destroyed by fire in 1967 and have since been restored.
At the south end of the choir, opposite the main entrance, stands the Altar de Perdón (Altar of Mercy), the Churrigueresque retablo of which (by Jerónimo de Balbás) with a painting of the Virgin by Simón Pereyns (1568), was also damaged in the 1967 fire; it has since been restored.
Apr 1 to Sep 30: 7am-7pm; Sun: 7am-8pmOct 1 to Mar 31: 7am-6pm; Sun: 7am-8pm
Always closed on: Mexico - Battle of Pueblo Day (May 5), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Mexican Independence Day (Sep 16), Mexico National Day (Sep 1), Mexican Revolution Day (Nov 20)
Metropolitan Cathedral Highlights
In the Sacristy, which has 16th c. Gothic groined vaulting, hang pictures painted about 1665 by Cristóbal de Villalpando ("Immaculate Conception", "Triumph of the Church") and Juan Correa ("Coronation of the Virgin", "St Michael and the Dragon", "Entry into Jerusalem").
In the Crypt can be seen the tombs of most of the archbishops of Mexico City, among them Juan de Zumárraga, the great teacher of the Indians and the first incumbent of the see.