The earliest known structure on the site was the Convent of Santa Isabel, whose church was built in 1680. However, significant Aztec finds, such as a sacrificial altar in the shape of aplumed serpent have been found here. The convent area suffered frequent flooding during the early colonial period and development here grew slowly. In spite of this, the convent remained until it was forcibly closed in the 1860s by the Reform Laws. It was replaced by a textile mill and lower-class housing.
A section of this housing, on Santa Isabel Alley, was torn down and replaced by the National Theater in the latter 19th century. During the late 19th century and ve
ry early 20th, this theatre was the site of most of Mexico City’s high
culture, presenting events such as theatre, operettas, Viennese dance and more. It was then decided to replace this building with a more opulent one for the upcoming Centennial of Mexican Independence celebrations in 1910. The old theatre was demolished in 1901, and the new theatre would be called the Gran Teatro de Ópera. The work was awarded to Italian architect Adamo Boari, who favored n
eoclassical and art nouveau styles and who is responsible for thePalacio del Correo which is across the street. Adamo Boari promised in October of 1904 to build grand metallic structure, which at that time only existed in the United States, but not to this size. The first stone of the building was place by Porfirio Díaz in 1904.Despite the 1910 deadline, by 1913, the building was hardly begun with only a basic shell. One reason for this is that the project became more complicated than anticipated as the heavy building sank into the soft spon
gy subsoil. The other reason was the political and economic instability that would lead to the Mexican Revolution
. Full hostilities suspended construction of the palace completely and Adamo Boari returned to Italy.
The project would sit unfinished for about twenty years. In 1932, construction resumed under Mexican architect Federico Mariscal. Mariscal completed the interior but updated it from Boari’s plans to the more modern Art Deco style. The building was completely finished in 1934, and was inaugurated on 29 September of that year. The inaugural work presented in the theatre was "La Verdad Sospec
hosa" by Juan Ruiz d
e Alarcón in 1934. In 1946, the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Institute of the Fine Arts) was created as a government agency to promote the arts and was initially housed at the Museo Nacional de Artes Plasticas, the Museo del Libro and other places. It is now at the Palacio.
In this theatre, Maria Callas debuted in the opera “N
orma” in 1950.
In 2002, the Palace was the scene of the funeral of María Félix.
Since its initial construction, very little has been updated or modified. However, intensive renovation efforts were begun in 2009 for the upcoming 2010 celebrations. Much of the equipment an
d machinery is original from the early 20th century. Much of the technological equipment
is being updated, especially in the theatre which needs computerized lights, sound systems and other improvements. Other work will improve the acoustics.Upgrades to the theatre
will allow for multimedia shows which were not available before. The main hall has had no renovation or upgrade work since it opened in 1934. Renovations here will lessen the number of people the hall can accommodate but should make the area more comfortable.
The interior is also surfaced in Carrera marble.It divides into three sections: the main hall with adjoining smaller exhibition halls
, the theatre and the offices of the I
nsituto Nacional de Bellas Artes. The main hall is covered by the Marotti glass and iron roof. It and the balconies of all three upper floors can be seen from the ground floor below. In areas of the main hall, pre-Hispanic motifs done in Art De
smaller exhibition halls are located on the first and second floors. The first floor is decorated with crystal lamps, created by Edgar Brandt and hold murals by Rufino Tamayo. The Adamo Boari and Manuel E. Ponce halls hold music and literature events. And the National and International halls are for exhibitions. The second floor h
as smaller exhibition halls as well as murals by José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera,Jorge González Camarena, Roberto Montenegro and Manuel Rodríguez Lozano. The third floor is occupied by the Museum of Architecture. The ironwork was designed in Italy by Alessandro Mazzucotelli and in Mexico by Luis Romero Soto.
At the entrance of the theatre, there are mascarons in bronze with depictions of Tlaloc, and Chac, the Aztec and Mayan deities of water, which along with the rest were designed by Gianette Fiorenzo. On the arch over the stage are representations of various mythological personas such as th
e Muses with Apollo. This was con
structed in Hungary in the workshops of Geza Maroti. However, the most impacting aspect is the stage “curtain” which is a stained glass foldable panel creat
ed out of nearly a million pieces of iridescent pieces of colored glass by Tiffany’s in New York.This stage
curtain is the only one of its type in any opera house in the world and weighs 24 tons.The design of the curtain has the volcanos Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl in the center. Around them is a Mexican landscape and this is surrounded by images of sculptures from Yautepec and Oaxaca.
This design was inspired by work done by artist Gerardo Murillo (Dr. Atl). The theatre has a capacity of 1,000.
Individual events that have been held here are numerous. Some of these include several exhibitions of Frida Kahlo’s work, and a number of appearances by Luciano Pavarotti.Other appearances have been made by Mexican baritone Jorge Lagunes (2002) and Catalan guitarist Joan Manuel Serrat (2003).Also Philip Glass with his Ensemble, and special guests perform Philip Glass’ multi-cultu
ral work ORION(2010).
Events that have been held here include “ABCDF Palabras de Ciudad” (2002) showing life in popular housing in photographs and video, “Bordados del Mexico Antiguo” (Embro
idery of Old Mexico) showing processes, history and design,Rem Koolhaas Premio Pritzker 2000" conference and “Exchanging Views: Visions of Latin America” which was an exhibit from the collection of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros comprising 148 works by 72 artists from acros
s Latin America in 2006.
Boari was born in Marrara at Ferrara. He stu died at the University of Ferrara and af terwards at the University of Bologna where he gra dua ted in 1886.
After he had done some works in Turin he went to Bra
zil in 1889 where he had to or ganize an ex hi bi tion. After vi sit ing the coun try es pe cially the city of Buenos Aires and the city of Montevideo and after re co ver ing from yellow fever he went to the United Sta tes where he lived in Chicago. In 1899 he got per mis sion to work in the United Sta tes as an ar chi tect. In 1903 he went to Mexico where he be came known for his works at se veral churches in 1898, for the con struc tion of the »Templo Expiatorio« in 1899 (temple of expiation) and for his mo nu ment of Porfirio Díaz (1890). So he was com mis sio ned to the con struc
tion of the Palacio de Bel las Artes and of the Palacio de Cor reos de Mexico in Mexico City. Some of his works he did at the bu reau of Frank Lloyd Wright. ThePalacio de Correos was fi nis hed in 1907. Alt hough Boari began with the con struc tion of the Palacio de Bel las Artes in 1901 he could not fi nish his work due to the up co m ing revolution and re sul ting tech ni cal and fi nan cial pro blems.
In 1916 h
e re tur ned to Italy where he lead the con struc tion of the new thea tre of Ferrara which was fi nis hed by his bro ther Sesto. Some de tails of this b
uil ding are re mi nis cent of the Me xi can Palacio de Bel las Artes. Boari died in Rome in 1928.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes was fi nis hed after his death.