The Ancient College of San Ildefonso was one of the largest educational institutions in the capital of New Spain. Its foundation by the Jesuits dates from 1588, as a seminary where students resided in the Congregation. Around 1618 began operating under the Royal Patronage granted by Philip III, establishing the Oldest Royal College of San Ildefonso.
In the early Eighteenth century it was rebuilt, leading to the building we know today and is considered one of the most remarkable examples of civil architecture in Mexico City.
After the expulsion of the Jesuits decreed by King Charles III in 1767, the building had several functions: the headquarters of a battalion of the regiment of Flanders, school administered by the colonial government and led by the secular clergy, the temporary headquarters of the Law School, a few chairs in the School of Medicine and the headquarters of U.S. and French troops in 1847 and 1862 respectively.
The history of the Jesuit Foundation concluded to make way for the institution of liberal spirit that would lay the foundations of the new educational system which would later become the core of the National University. In 1867, Benito Juárez’s government started a reform in the field of education and its institutions. The Organic Law of Education created the National Preparatory School, which was established in the building of the Colegio de San Ildefonso. Its first director was Dr. Gabino Barreda (1818-1881), who conducted an innovative curriculum based on the principles of the positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte.
In 1910, the National Preparatory School became part of the National University founded by Justo Sierra. For more than six decades remained the cradle of several generations of intellectuals and eminent personalities. 1978 was the last year it hosted the National Preparatory School. The building remained closed to the public until 1992, when it was renovated to house the exhibition “Mexico: Splendors of 30 centuries”.
Currently is a museum and cultural center considered to be the birthplace of the Mexican muralism movement. The complex is located between San Ildefonso Street and Justo Sierra Street in the historic center of Mexico City.