The current Mexican flag has a dimension of 4:7, giving it a rectangular shape, and it has three vertical stripes, a green stripe, a white stripe and a red stripe, with a coat of arms placed in the center of the white stripe. The coat of arms symbolizes the Aztec heritage and is comprised of an eagle, with a serpent in its talons, perched on top of a prickly pear cactus that is on a rock rising out of a lake. When the Aztecs were looking for a home in pre-Columbian Mexico, their gods told them to look for a spot where they would see an eagle eating a serpent while sitting atop a prickly pear tree. When the Aztecs came upon such a site, a marshy area with three lakes, they settled and built the great city of Tenochtitlan, now present day Mexico City.
Mexico has had four official national flags, although some historians consider a very early flag, the Standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe, to be the first Mexican flag. This flag came into being during the War of Independence from Spain (1810-1821) and was carried by the army of Miguel Hidalgo, the leader of the independence movement, as well as by other rebel armies. This flag portrayed an iconic Marian apparition of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, and was (and is) an important religious symbol for Mexican Roman Catholics.
The first official Mexican national flag was adopted in 1821, shortly after the War of Independence. The new government decreed…
“The national flag and flags of the army shall be tricolor, adopting forever the colors green, white and encarnado arranged vertically, with the crowned eagle in the center of the white stripe…”
This flag was very similar to the flag in use today except that the eagle wore a crown on its head but did not have a serpent in its talons. In use for only two years, this Mexican flag was abandoned in 1823 after a brief imperial rule, led by Agustín I, ended.
The second national Mexican flag, adopted in 1823 as Mexico declared itself a federal republic, was very similar to the first but with a few changes to the coat of arms. The eagle’s crown was removed, and the serpent familiar today was placed in the eagle’s talon. Laurel branches and an oak branch were also added. This flag was in use until 1864 when the federal republic came to an end.
In 1864, the third national flag of Mexico came into being at the same time as the Second Mexican Empire. For a brief three year period, Napoleon III, in a bid to establish a European foothold in the Americas, sent French troops to Mexico and installed Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota, as rulers. During this time, the government changed the flag’s coat of arms to one similar to the French Imperial coat of arms, and the flag’s ratio was changed from 4:7 to 2:1, making the flag more square-shaped. Four eagles, one in each corner, were added as well. The Second Mexican Empire did not last long (Carlota left the country and Maximilian was executed), and in 1867, this third national flag was abandoned and the second national flag was reinstated.
The fourth national flag was adopted in 1968, confirmed by the government in 1984 and is still in use today. In this version, the eagle is facing sideways instead of looking toward the front. This change was made in 1916 by former rebel and President Venustiano Carranza Garza.
The symbolism of the Mexican flag colors have been open to various interpretations. Originally, the green stood for independence from Spain, the white stood for the Roman Catholic church and the red stood for the union between the Europeans and the Americans. With the spread of secularism, however, the meanings have changed. In one version, the green stands for hope, the white stands for unity and the red stands for the blood of fallen national heroes. In yet another version, the green represents hope, the white represents purity and the red represents religion. Since the Mexican flag law does not specify the meanings of the Mexican flag colors, they continue to be open to interpretation.
The colors of the Mexican flag are very similar to the colors of the Italian flag, and from a distance the two can be confused. While the Italian flag also has vertical stripes, one green, one white and one red, the red and green colors are not as dark as on the Mexican flag, and the Italian flag does not have a coat of arms or any other symbol in the center of it. When searching for a printable Mexican flag, ensure that the color densities are correct.
Today the modern Mexican flag flies throughout Mexico, and giant flags (14 meters by 25 meters) called banderas monumentales (monumental flags) fly in cities, including Mexico City and Veracruz, that have special historical significance to the country.