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Monument to the Revolution, Mexico City

Monument to the Revolution

Remembering the civil war that transformed Mexico


Centro Historico
Mexico City


A Striking Monument and Vista

This monument commemorates the Mexican Revolution, an era of Mexico’s modern history that, whilst undoubtedly a dark, violent period with a grim death toll, was nonetheless a transformation of the Mexican state that has defined the nation as a modern democracy ever since.

The monument is an architectural wonder. Originally conceived as a congressional palace before being repurposed as a national monument following the revolution, this vast and imposing structure is an icon at the heart of Mexico City.

Visitors can learn more about the Mexican Revolution in the museum in the monument’s base, before ascending a glass elevator to the viewing platforms at its summit, which feature a 360 degree panoramic view of this part of Mexico City.

Monument to the Revolution at sunset, Mexico City
Visit the monument at sunset for a spectacular vista of the monument and the surrounding city from the viewing platforms above


The Mexican Revolution

Mexico began the 20th century under the regime of president-dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had ruled Mexico since 1876. The Díaz regime’s prevailing ideology involved opening Mexico’s economy to foreign investment. This unleashed an economic boom but the gains were not evenly distributed throughout Mexican society, with rampant poverty, inequality and abysmal working conditions. On top of this, controversial land reforms unleashed great resentment towards the regime from the rural working class.

Furthermore, Díaz's grip on power relied on maintaining a delicate power balance between the traditional rural landowners, the 'hacendados', and the progressive, technocratic elites of Mexico City, the 'científicos'. By the turn of the century, Díaz's tact at balancing these competing interests was fading and opposition to his rule was growing.

The Mexican Revolution brought Porfirio Díaz’s rule to an end, but due to the lack of a single unifying successor, unleashed a bloody decade-long civil war to determine the future of Mexico’s government.

The fighting proved a dark chapter in Mexico’s history. Coinciding with the brutal military advancements of the First World War on the European continent, the Mexican Revolution was one of the deadliest events in the history of the Americas. Some estimates suggest that up to a million lives were lost. But the Revolution did bring Mexico a new constitution, a government more receptive to the concerns of the Mexican people, and created a state that has proved to be one of Latin America’s most stable.

Divided Revolutionaries

The Mexican Revolution was the first of a series of revolutions in the 20th century, but unlike its successors in Russia or Cuba, it lacked a defining ideological purpose.

There were many grievances that motivated the fighting: a desire for national sovereignty from the controlling foreign business interests of the Porfirio Díaz era, popular anger over the distribution of agricultural land, a quest for democracy, and demands for improved conditions in the agricultural, mining and industrial sectors.

But the revolutionaries fighting for these causes were an unlikely coalition. Their backgrounds ranged from hacienda landowners to socialist and anarchist ideologues. With so little in common, the revolution was marred by a struggle to define a common vision for the future of Mexico.

The most conservative of the revolution’s leaders were powerful landowners from the northern border states, who first issued the call to arms against the Diaz regime. For this group, this was a war between two rival sets of elites: the landowners of the northern border states versus the progressive científicos of Mexico City.

Little separated the two groups ideologically: in fact, the northern landowners praised Mexico’s economic performance under the Díaz presidency, but wanted greater participation in the presidency’s power base. Politically, their key demand was to enhance Mexico's democracy by prohibiting presidents from seeking re-election beyond their first term.

Monument to the Revolution, Mexico City
The imposing monument commemorates the civil war as well as the new system of government and democratic ideals that followed the Revolution

Social Justice Fighters

The initial uprisings by the northern landowners were soon joined by a distinct group of revolutionaries with a radical social justice agenda. This uprising was in protest of the poverty and inequality of the Porfirio Díaz era, with a radical manifesto calling for social welfare, public education, and land redistribution from the hacienda owners to the workers.

Two key figures, Emiliano Zapata from the southern state of Morelos and Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa from Chihuahua, built an alliance of rural laborers, indigenous peoples and the urban working class.

The conservative instincts of the northern landowners and the radical social justice demands of Villa and Zapata made for a discordant alliance in the fight against the ‘cientifico’ political establishment. The differences between these two loosely allied factions would cause both conflict and compromise over the decade-long civil war.

The Post-Revolutionary State

As the fighting subsided and stability returned to Mexico in the 1920s, the revolution’s impact on Mexico and its legacy began to emerge.

Democracy was enhanced with the principle that no president should seek reelection, a stark contrast to the 35-year rule of Porfirio Díaz and a pillar of Mexican democracy that has been strictly observed to this day. Over the course of the 20th century the Mexican state, as a result, proved to be one of Latin America’s most stable.

A new constitution was agreed in 1917 and provided the template for post-revolution Mexico. Church and state were separated, workers rights enhanced, land redistributed to rural and indigenous communities, and sovereignty over mineral rights was reasserted much to the dismay of foreign mining companies. Although a series of compromises by future presidents would water down the document’s more radical elements, the 1917 Constitution has remained the foundation of the Mexican political system ever since.

Post-revolutionary governments proved more receptive to the needs of rural laborers and the urban working class than under the Díaz regime, and steps were taken the provide better representation to indigenous peoples.

But the Mexican Revolution did not lead to a radial transformation of society of the kind seen in the Russia and Cuba Revolutions, despite the radical agenda pursed by Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Mexico’s economic structure and social class system under the Díaz regime, as well as the marginalization of indigenous peoples that began in the colonial period, broadly continued under the post-revolutionary state.

Over the decades that followed the revolution, governments would go to great lengths to instill the revolution as transformational event in Mexico’s history. The Revolution was presented as a conflict against the corrupt old-guard of the Díaz regime, ushering in a new liberal democratic era, and drawing on Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage of the Aztecs and Mayas to establish a new vision for Mexico. This vision helped post-revolutionary governments to win support from a broad range of social classes and interest groups, beginning an era of stability for Mexico.

Monument to the Revolution

The vast 'Monumento a la Revolución' at the heart of Mexico City is perhaps the most visible of all the government’s initiatives to cement the revolution in the national conscience.

Construction of the structure actually began under the Porfirio Díaz presidency. Díaz planned to build a congressional palace to house Mexico’s legislative chambers. The planned palace would have been one of the biggest congressional buildings in the world, with a European neoclassical architectural style not dissimilar to Díaz’s other grand architectural project, the nearby Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Díaz laid the first stone of the congressional building in November 1910, marking the centinerary of Mexico’s War of Independence with Spain, but also now known as the month when the Mexican Revolution began.

Construction of the legislative chamber continued for 2 years, but came to a halt in 1912 as the government’s financial resources were drained by the fighting engulfing Mexico. As civil war raged, the building’s grand steel structure stood abandoned.

It was not until 1933, under the post-revolutionary presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas that an architect, Carlos Obregón Santacilia, proposed converting the planned congressional building into a monument for those who fought in the Mexican Revolution. The European-influenced neoclassical design of the Díaz era was dispensed with, and in its place came an Art Deco design with influences of social realism and indigenous culture.

The monument would also function as a mausoleum for the leading figures of the Revolution. Laid to rest under the monuments pillars are Francisco “Pancho” Villa, Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Plutarco Elías Calles and Lázaro Cárdenas.

Mausoleum below the pillars of the Monument to the Revolution
Some of the revolution’s leaders are buried in a mausoleum below each of the monument’s four pillars


The Monument & Viewing Platforms

As well as offering the chance to understand a crucial chapter of Mexico’s history, the Monument to the Revolution is a spectacular work of architecture.

The exterior of the monument is best viewed from the surrounding Plaza de la República, where you can walk around the monument and underneath the main arch. Then, head down a pathway into the base of the monument. From here, either head to the rear of the lobby area to explore the National Museum of the Revolution, or go to the ticket office on your left to explore the monument.

After purchasing a ticket, the path through the monument begins by leading you through the foundations. Signs tell the story of the structure’s origins as a planned congressional building, its abandonment during the fighting of the revolution, and its later conversion into a grand monument.

Next, a tall glass elevator takes you on the ascent to the first of two viewing platforms. Here, there is a large terrace on the side of the monument, where you can enjoy a coffee from the small cafe and walk around the monument for a 360 degree view of the surrounding city streets.

From here, you can climb up a steep spiral staircase to the second, smaller viewing platform at the very top of the 67 meter high monument. This platform offers a spectacular view spanning the Centro Histórico, the skyscrapers of Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, and in the distance, the hills surrounding the Valley of Mexico.

View from the viewing platform of the Monument to the Revolution
The view from the monument to the north-east, stretching from the Plaza de la República to the hills that surround the Valley of Mexico
First Published: March 6, 2024