The Origin and History of the Angel of Independence in Mexico City, Mexico
The most iconic and representative monument of Mexico is the Angel of Independence in Mexico City. It is one of the must-visit places if you ever come to CDMX.
The Mexican landmark is a column topped with a golden-winged Victory holding a laurel crown and a broken chain. Different bronze statues surround the column along with allegorical phrases. It is the favorite spot for locals to celebrate and hold civilian demonstrations.
Although its official name is Column of Independence or Monument to Independence, people know it as Angel of Independence. You can find it in Reforma, one of the most beautiful streets in the heart of Mexico City’s financial district.
Read ahead to find out the Angel of Independence’s fascinating and difficult history, as well as its significance and meaning.
History and Purpose of the Angel of Independence
President Santa Anna called a contest to design a monument commemorating Mexico’s Independence. His requirements were to include a 138 feet (42 m) marble column, a winged Victory on top, and bronze statues at the base.
Members of the San Carlos Academy who served as judges chose the French architect Enrique Griffon as the winner.
Santa Anna wasn’t very pleased with his work and chose Lorenzo de la Hidalga’s design, who had won second place.
At the end, the lack of funds truncated the construction of the Mexico Angel of Independence. They left only a town square called a zócalo and people named it La Plaza de la Constitución or Constitution square.
More than 20 years later, during Mexico’s Second Empire, the administration called for a second contest. Although Empress Carlota laid the first stone, the building of the Angel of Independence did not move forward once again due to the fall of the Empire.
After the restoration of the Republic, getting funding for the monument was almost unthinkable. It wasn’t until President Porfirio Díaz ordered that the construction of the Angel of Independence began in 1910 as a commemoration of the Independence war’s centenary.
Antonio Rivas Mercado was in charge of the project and appointed Italian Enrique Alciati to sculpt the figures below the Angel of Independence and Roberto Gayol to do the engineering works.
The avenue, already called Reforma, was near many new constructions and rich neighborhoods. Díaz decided to locate many statues of heroes and small wooded areas throughout the avenue before calling for a third contest. The Angel of Independence became the crown of Reforma.
The first attempt to build the column ended as it started to sink. The foundations were not in good condition, so they had to demolish the 82 feet (25 m) piece.
The government relocated the remains of Independence war heroes that rested in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City to the Angel of Independence, and so it became a mausoleum.
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Elements of the Angel of Independence
The final design of the Angel of Independence has influence from the honorary Roman columns and it is very similar to other modern monuments that include the Victory.
The column has a diameter of 9.5 feet (2.9 m) and has rings, flowery medallions, and oak garlands that come from sculpted lion heads. At the foot of the column lie two crowns: the first emulates serpent skin-similar to the ones of the Aztec Gods, and the other one is made of laurel leaves. The names of the heroes that rest there appear within two of the rings.
- Augustín Iturbide
- Ignacio Allende
- Manuel Mier y Terán
- Hermenegildo Galeana
- Guadalupe Victoria
- José Ignacio López-Rayón
- Mariano Matamoros
- Antonio de Aldama
The pedestal has a statue of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Father of the Country, holding a Mexican flag. Beneath him, two femenine figures: the History muse with a book, and the Motherland offering Hidalgo a laurel crown. Four statues in an inferior level appear, they correspond to these heroes: José María Morelos, Francisco Xavier Mina, Nicolás Bravo, and Vicente Guerrero.
You can also see a male lion that a little boy is guiding at the landing of the pedestal, which symbolizes the force and the intelligence. In the four extremes, there are four seated statues: the Peace, the War, the Justice, and the Law.
The Victoria Alada is a hollow bronze statue covered with a 24-carat gold layer. It has open wings and the right arm extended, holding a laurel crown. It looks as if she was to crown heroes. The left arm is down holding a three-link broken chain.
Angel of Independence Facts
These are some of the facts about the Angel of Independence in Mexico.
Who is the Angel of Independence?
According to oral tradition, Antonio Rivas Mercado took the inspiration to make the face of the Angel of Independence from his daughter Alicia. While we will never know if this is true, the face of Alicia is in one of the medallions of the bronze doors that serve as the entrance to the mausoleum.
What does the Angel of Independence represent?
The three-link broken chain the Angel of Independence holds represents the three years of viceroyal political, social, and economic dependence on the Spanish Empire.
How tall is the Angel of Independence?
It has a height of 22 feet or 6.7 meters and weighs 7 tons.
Are there any remains of women in the mausoleum?
There is only one woman inside the mausoleum, Leona Vicario.
Is it the original Angel?
In 1957, an earthquake destroyed the Winged Victory or Victoria Alada, which laid on the zócalo floor. Engineers reconstructed it and only reused the head of the original Angel of Independence. The monument had structural damage again due to the earthquake in 1985 but everything was promptly restored.
Angel of Independence Celebrations and Protests
Quinceañeras or girls that celebrate their sweet 15 go to the monument to get a picture with their friends in their fancy dresses. Football fans meet there when Mexico wins a match during the Worldcup and other cups and leagues. On Independence day people congregate here and dance to popular music.
On the other hand, when Mexicans protest against bad administrations or demand justice, they usually gather in some other strategic point within the city and walk together holding banners and flags on their way to the Angel of Independence. Feminist demonstrators were the most recent ones to have done it before Covid, demanding more security.
Come and See the Angel of Independence for Yourself!
The best way to know history is seeing the places where things happened for yourself, socializing with the people who live in the culture of a country, visiting the monuments that commemorate special dates, and the locations where heroes erected homelands.
If you are curious about the Angel of Independence, you will love to visit Reforma avenue, the financial district, and nearby neighborhoods. You will find many more iconic pieces scattered all throughout Mexico City.
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