Valparaiso Palace



By Ivonne Gonzalez

Valparaiso Palace, also referred to as Condes de San Mateo Valparaiso House, is located in Mexico City, Mexico. This building was built from December of 1769 until May of 1772 by architect Francisco Antonio de Guerrero y Torres. As of June 2019 it serves as a headquarters for entrepreneurship, innovation, and culture. It is located on the corner of Catolica and Venustiano street in the Historic Center of Mexico City. This building style resembles Baroque characteristics and has housed the National Bank of Mexico’s facilities since 1884.

My study will analyze the changes implemented on the building with relation to its historical context over time. What is unique about this building, similar to the Palace of Iturbide, is that owners changed throughout time and so did the use of the building. Along with these changes, modifications and additions were implemented as well. The construction development emphasizes the importance in formal elements that were common during the time these changes occurred. This idea reiterates that style and aesthetics regarding architecture is not something permanent, rather it serves as symbolism of influence. The intention of utilizing the space changed accordingly to the different kinds of owners so spatial form is something of importance to analyze as well. This idea tackles one of the main elements in design that is praised in architecture which is why a space is designed the way that it is and if it flows with the intention of how it is used. These influences are always changing with time, place, and people and it will be discussed with Valparaiso being a prime example of such principles.

Throughout Time

The property was granted by Hernan Cortes to Alonso Nortes in the 16th century, who later sold it to Juan Cermeno. It was then where the first house of this property was erected. It was established to be like a fortress and was built with materials extracted from pre-Columbian constructions. As time passed, the property underwent many owners. However, one of the more prominent owners who influenced most of the building’s culture was Miguel de Berrio y Zaldivar by Jaral de Berrio of New Spain in the 18th century. Him and his wife Ana Maria de la Campa y Cos decided to build this palace as a symbolism of their status and wealth.

Figure 1. Image of Palace of Valparaiso on the corner intersection of both streets it rests on. Towards the back left, the lighter structure houses the Valparaiso Forum Museum.

The entire palace has been completely remodeled that aligned to the taste and demands of whom the owner was during the time of the modifications. Originally it was erected as solely Mexican style and its construction consisted of a chiluca quarry that was used for structural elements. The facade had masses covered by tezontle and had tiles that entailed the famous talavera of Puebla. On its exterior there is an overwhelming tower that contains an angular niche that protects the image of Marian flanked with Solomonic columns. The builders’ descendants remained until 1867 when the estate was awarded to Don Clemente Sanz. He would then rent these spaces for multiple uses including education, internships, casinos, households and other local commercial purposes. In 1882 his daughter, Dolores Sanz de Lavie, sold it to the then newly founded Mexican National Bank.

The bank merged with the Mexican Mercantile Bank in 1884 which then led to the National Bank of Mexico, where the Citibanamex group became the final owner. The mezzanine was eliminated consequently modifying the windows on the ground floor, which were made longer. This was done to place the offices  further away for the National Bank of Mexico in 1884 and served as an adaptation to the changing use of this building. This is why it currently has only two floors. The bank eventually reached out to architect Ignacio de la Hidalga to modify the mezzanine on the outside to extend upwards.

 On November 5th, 1888 the two houses adjacent to the palace were demolished in order to expand the facilities of the National Bank of Mexico. During this time, the first vault of the financial institution was placed as well as having additional space including the historic Council Room. Fast forward to 1932, the building was declared an Artistic Monument that became public to visitors up until 2010.

Formal Elements

The two visible facades, as seen in Figure 1, show the same motif reproduced. This ornamentation consisted of tezontle ashlars and grey chiluca masonry molding on the facades. Some areas were covered with tiles of talavera de puebla. The edge of the roof is enhanced by pinnacles.

On the corner exists a tower that enriches a niche where Mariana images are sheltered between Salomonico columns. The angular tower contains the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The main door is surmounted by the coat of arms of the aristocratic family that is seen in Figure 2. The rest of the ornamentation, with its tezontle ashlars and grey chiluca masonry molding on the facades, is slightly mixtilinear. This presents the peculiarity that instead of finishing off its roofs, converted into terraces, based on parapets as did most of the mansions, these are limited by wrought iron railings, supported by piers that recall the position of the traditional battlements.

Figure 2. Main door to palace.

Its surface was considerably wide, a new patio was added, an exact copy of the original, and the façade was extended over Calle de Isabel la Catolica, with the same model and identical materials that were used in the 18th century. This allows for the origins of the building to prosper and continue to impact the overall design, even in improvements.

The original layout of this building, due to the modifications that it has, had to condition it to the needs of a modern bank. It must be recognized that the institution that owns this property has taken pains to preserve it with dignity, ornamentation, and demolish all the three great low arches, all the five high arches and the hall cabinet, for having erred and been falling apart.

Helical Staircase

The double-spiral staircase is one of the prominent elements in this building because of its significance to its time. During the construction of the time, the owners wanted to create this building as a sign of privilege in the economic and social class aspect. The purpose of this staircase was so that the counts would not bump into, or cross paths, with the servants. As seen in Figure 3, the staircase appears to be one entity, and the focal point is on the decorated ceiling. The design is executed very well because it is not instinctively noticeable that it in fact is two separate staircases.

Figure 3. The double spiral staircase that is located in the forum. This spiral indicates the separation of the owners and its servants which symbolizes that they would not cross each others paths.

This type of staircase was very unique and one of it’s kind to the region. This idea has been seen only in Europe before in the chateau at Chambord during the Renaissance. This innovative feature was incorporating two spirals so that there was more usage of the stairs at any given time. This central staircase was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. There is no solid influence that this was the direct influence, but it could be implied that the Europeans were the top tier class of the time which might suggest this innovation.

Spatial Form

The intended space initially was for the count’s daughter’s future. The idea of building an enormous residential headquarters was intended to show that the family came from wealth. The purpose of doing so, was in order to attract wealthier suitors for his daughter. The ornamental elements such as the motifs on the facade and the decorative lintels and arches all along the interior add to this wealth. This building appeared to be a palace, even though it was technically a home. The staircase, again, adding to the separation of the high and low class was a way to ensure that people were aware of such a high class family that resided in the building. The two-way staircase guaranteed that the classes wouldn’t be caught on the same pathway.

Once the building is sold to the National Bank, the spatial form is adjusted to fit the needs of bankers. The second floor ends up being closed off to add to the quietness that the bankers needed for privacy issues. Again, in 1884 the mezzanine was eliminated to incorporate longer windows to reach the ground floor in order to place the offices that the bank required. This shows that the spatial form was greatly modified according to the use of the building. Overall, the decorative elements were appropriate for the bank as it is a building of currency that ensures people’s money is handled safely and that the bank has enough to lend to its clients.

Foro Valparaíso Museo

The addition that contrasts the building from antique to modern is the museum that was opened to the public on the 1135th anniversary of the National Bank of Mexico. The museum was intentionally meant to be attached on the side of the original building to reminisce the value of culture and history for the residents of Mexico city. This modern addition aligns with the current goal of enriching the locals with culture to stimulate business and entrepreneurship for young adults who work tirelessly.

This exhibition has 117 works from private institutions from Mexico that focus specifically on Mexican artists and their craftsmanship. The idea of making these pieces revolve around Mexican culture is to establish this theme of the country’s history and artistic developments. The museum exhibits paintings that rival and complement the paintings presented by main public art museums found around the city. The collection includes works from important people including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Julio Reulas, and so many more iconic artists.

The Valparaiso Forum houses two essential rooms that include the Entrepreneurship Romm and the Innovation Room. The former provides a laboratory in order for people visiting to have the chance at growth in regards to being an entrepreneur, the ladder focuses on the contributions from the Mexican National Bank. Entrepreneurship serves as a space to not only inspire but to guide the visitors in the right direction to develop skills through interactive challenges. These processes help stimulate your consciousness to understand what makes an ideal successful entrepreneur and leader in business.


The importance of analyzing Valparaiso is to shine light on the historical prevalence this site holds in regards to it’s changing environment. The surroundings of New Mexico have drastically and gradually changed and this building serves as a bridge for the transition of pre-Hisapanic times from the Colonial period to the contemporary period of Mexico. The two streets that house the Counts of San Mateo Valparaiso have acquired four centuries worth of existence that needs to be appreciated and understood.

This building stands out among other 18th century buildings because of its characteristics; 17 meter arch with no evident support, the internal facade of the house, and the double helical staircase. Additionally, for over 100 years this building was considered residential and served as a house before it was used in the public eye. Being a Baroque construction with over 248 years of history, this structure allows for Mexican values to be preserved including the chiluca and tezontle quarry on the facade and the details of the Puebla talavera.


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