The Angel of Independence in Mexico City is a victory column, constructed to commemorate Mexico’s independence from the Spanish rule. Located on a circular intersection on the major thoroughfare of Paseo de la Reforma in downtown Mexico City, its official name is Monumento a la Independencia, while it is popularly known as El Angel.
The Mexican War of Independence ended the rule of Spain in 1821 in the territory of New Spain, which included Mexico. In 1902, almost 100 years after the formal start of the battle for independence, President Porfirio Díaz initiated the construction of a commemorative tower, the Angel of Independence on Avenida Reforma, with Antonio Rivas Mercado as the architect. The creation of this architectural monument is a part of the long process of the construction of numerous historical memorials of Mexican independence.
During the year 1910, there were numerous constructions of monuments, towers and national landmarks, as well as renovations and renaming of buildings and streets, to honor the national heroes who fought for Mexican Independence. These preparations to commemorate the great event of national importance started years ahead, so that they could be unveiled in time for their respective celebrations. However, the construction of the Angel of Independence was the most significant among the all, as it would commemorate the most important moment in Mexican History, the moment of Independence.
The foundation stone of the Angel of Independence was laid on January 2, 1902 and a gold chest containing the records of independence and a series of coins minted in that epoch, was placed in it. Unfortunately, when the foundations were built and it reached at the height of 25m, the sides of the monument collapsed on May 1906. The work was stopped till it was determined by the enquiry commission that, basically the foundations of the monument were not properly planned. Consequently, the structure was completely demolished and the work restarted under the supervision of a steering committee, comprising of the engineers and the architect Manuel Gorozpe, while the Italian artist Enrique Alciati was entrusted with the responsibility of all the sculptures. Nevertheless, apart from the preliminary hiccup, the construction was completed in time for the festivities to commemorate the first hundred years of Mexican Independence in 1910.
The Angel of Independence was inaugurated gorgeously and gracefully in 1910, as the concluding event of the festivities celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence. The function was graced by several ambassadors, diplomats, civil servants and the general population. Later, an eternal flame in honour of the heroes was installed in the base of the column in 1929, at the order of President Emilo Portes Gil.
Originally there were nine steps leading to the base of the column, but due to the sinking of the ground, fourteen more steps were added. Under the base, there is a mausoleum, which contains the remains of a dozen heroes of the revolution. The quadrangular base features a bronze sculpture on each vertex symbolizing law, justice, war and peace. Its main facade includes an inscription dedicating the monument by the Nation to the heroes of Independence. There is a bronze figurine of a giant lion led by a child, on the front side of the caption, which symbolizes the strength and the innocence of youth during a war but docility during peace. A tall Corinthian column rises 118 feet (36 m) high up in the sky from the base. The column is made up of steel enclosed with quarried stones, highlighted with garlands and rings with the names of the leading figures of the war of Independence.
The column is crowned with a 24k gold coated bronze statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory. She holds a crown of laurel in her right hand, to place it on the heads of the triumphant independence insurgents and in the other hand he has a broken three-link chain, symbolizing the end of the three centuries of Spanish rule in the country.
On 28 July, 1957 a strong earthquake toppled Nike from the column and broke into several pieces. It took more than a year for Sculptor Jose Fernandez Urbina to restore the damage and the monument was reopened on September 16, 1958. It also survived the devastating earthquake of September 19, 1985 with some damage to the staircases and the reliefs.
The column is equipped with a two-hundred step staircase which leads to the standpoint area. But, the climb is stiff and strenuous. The first fifteen steps in the base are wide and comfortable. However, the rest 185 metal steps inside the column are circular, extremely narrow and without a landing or resting point until the top. The staircase is mostly dark, as there is no arrangement of lighting, apart from a few slits to let in light. The top balcony is narrow, but it offers a breathing space and a commanding panoramic view of the wide avenues around the column.
The Angel of Independence is the most recognizable landmarks in Mexico City and a common meeting place for the public. Like the July Column in Paris and the Berlin Victory Column in Berlin, it has become an important place for celebration and protest. The tower looks mysterious at night, when the Chiluca stone of the column glows in seasonal colors and the golden Nike seems to be ready to take a flight.