The state of Oaxaca
has plenty of Pre-Hispanic ruins, museums and typical stores. And
overall, the people are fascinating.
From Oaxaca, you can visit several archaeological sites, particularly
Monte Albán (the "white mountain"), Mitlá
The central valleys of the state of Oaxaca,
with a mild climate, are comprised of numerous archaeological sites
and colonial treasures on a small area. This is one of the richest
artistic regions of Mexico. Only twenty of the
eight hundred archaeological sites have been excavated until now.
Monte Albán, Mitlá and Yagul are among the most important
: view of Monte Albán
Monte Albán is located at an altitude of 2 000 m (6562 feet),
9 km (5 miles) from Oaxaca.
The builders of Monte Albán chose the site because of its
strategic position and also because of universal religious significance
: closer to the sky and closer to the Gods. It was a titans’
work : they leveled several acres on the top of a hill. The priests,
the princes and the Gods shared this terrace.
Later, when Monte Albán and the other Mexican cities suddenly
vanished without any reason, the Mixtecs used this site abandoned
by the Zapotecs as their royal cemetery turning the once Holy City
into a City of the Dead.
first construction dates from 500 B.C, and the city reached its
peak from 250 to 800 A.D. with 50,000 inhabitants spread over a
6 km2 (2482 acres) area. Other centers such as Mitlá and
Yagul were built in the area at the same time. From 800 A.D., the
big cities started to decline with an outburst of the central power
in many small states as a consequence.
The ardor of the Zapotecs left many temples behind, carefully lined
up and oriented. There are truncated pyramids with porticos and
columns, a big innovation in Mexico. There are
also palaces linked to the temples with an imbroglio of underpasses
and numerous tombs and a ball court monument.
Everything is carefully urbanized and oriented according to the
sun and the cardinal points.
: view of Monte Albán
On the top of the mountain, the main place of 300 m by
265 (1000ft by 875ft) forms an ensemble that had been remodeled
for 15 years. It is not specific details that will attract you but
the whole ensemble because of the simplicity of the lines. The rocky
mulls, which couldn’t be leveled, have been included into
the construction: this explains some changes of orientation as well
as the deviation of some stairs.
The surfaces were covered with painted stucco and frescoes. The
decorative elements of the facades and the horizontal lines that
characterize the construction are better seen at sunset.
Left picture : view of Monte Albán
The Ball Court is the first monument to visit. The track,
H shaped, is bordered by a terrace and a slope where the steps once
were and where the spectators watched the ritual game. This ancient
track doesn’t have the rings (tlachtli) that appeared at the
Toltec time. There once were temples on the top of the slopes but
now only the bases remain.
The following constructions (edifices G, H and I) have
large stairs typical of the Zapotec architecture. The first of the
3 pyramids has an inner stairway from the base to the top.
An underpass linked it to the construction of the center of the
place. The last platform supported a house with a courtyard surrounded
Inside the ensemble located in the center of the court
is a small construction with an irregular shape (edifice J), oriented
to the southwest with an inner way, which looks like it once was
an astronomic observatory. About twenty carved slabs show inscriptions
made of three signs : one represents a hill in a Zapotec style (city),
another one is a glyph and the third one is an upside down head.
The ensemble probably represents the names of the captured cities.
Unlike the other vestiges of the site, oriented according to the
four cardinal points, this arrow shaped structure looks 35°
towards the southwest.
Te presentamos un
pequeño paseo por uno de los lugares turisticos más
importantes del estado de Oaxaca
y de todo México. Miles de turistas nacionales y
extranjeros visitan Oaxaca
cada año y Monte Albán es uno de los favoritos
por excelencia. Es el centro ceremonial más importante
de la Cultura Zapoteca y se encuentra ubicado a 9 kilómetros
de la ciudad de Oaxaca.
Fue construido por habitantes de aldeas del valle de Oaxaca.
Después fue ocupada por los Mixtecos hasta que llegaron
los españoles. Esta ubicada sobre una inmensa e impresionante
explanada se extienden los templos, patios, piramides, y
alrededor de 170 tumbas.
This is one of the most
important tourist places in the state of Oaxaca
and even Mexico. Thousands of Mexican and foreign tourists
visit Oaxaca and Monte Albán
It is the most important religious center of the Zapotec
culture. Located 9 km (5 Miles) from the city of Oaxaca,
it was built by the inhabitants of the villages of the valley
of Oaxaca. Then, the Mixtecs
occupied it until the arrival of the Spanish. It is located
on a huge plateau where spread out are temples, courtyards,
pyramids and about 170 tombs.
Enjoy the visit !
Sources : Encyclopædia Britannica & Wikipedia.org
-spanish version -
The south platform has not been restored except the stairs leading
to a temple. At the base of the platform stood steles (the original
are in the museum) telling the story of the victories.
The west side of the place is bordered by three separated
constructions, among them the edifice L. The first building is the
base of a temple with only 4 columns of the facade and a grand stairway
with levels remaining.
The central building is called temple of the Dancers. Inside, the
monument has been covered by another construction. It is part of
the most ancient monuments of Monte Albán. It was comprised
of a platform with sides covered with carved slabs. The personages
depicted there are called "dancers", maybe because of
their contorted positions. In reality, they are probably the human
victims of a cruel rite of mutilation. It could also be symbolic
representations of captured cities meaning, in esoteric language,
that they would have lost their virility. Other slabs of the same
kind were reused later as elements of construction. The glyphs by
the side of the personages have never been decrypted but they prove
the existence of a writing at least five centuries before our era.
The actual platform supported two small lateral temples and a house.
The last construction on the south west side has been only partially
excavated. Left picture : fresco of dancers
The north ensemble is comprised of a vast platform with
central stairs. The many tombs found at the base held representations
of personages and the most important ensemble of glyphs. At the
top, a big vestibule supported by columns, allowed the access to
a court with a stele in the center. The stele was carved with hieroglyphs.
Two more recent constructions stand on each side of the court. Behind,
other ensembles of constructions with their remaining of columns
and murals are just starting to be excavated. They found an under-structure,
called “the jewel Edifice ", named after the disc shaped
decorations which are reminiscent of the Teotihuacán
style. At the highest point of the site, at the north east of Patio
Hundido (sunk patio), stands the edificio del Vértice
Geodésico (geodesic summit).
Since the beginning, Monte Albán has also been a necropolis.
They found numerous tombs of various sizes and offerings. Even after
the city was abandoned, important personages were buried there.
Among the most interesting tombs, #104 presents a facade adorned
with a central niche holding an urn representing the God of Corn,
Pitao Cozobi. The old gate, made of a stone slab covered with glyphs,
is now in the anteroom. Inside are many well-preserved murals.
The Tomb #172, dating from the late period (Monte Albán IV),
still holds the skeleton and offerings as it was found. Among the
few 150 Mixtec tombs found on the site, the Tomb #7, the most famous,
has been reused by the Mixtecs after the city was abandoned. Along
with the dead and the two servants, they lay down many jewel and
golden ornaments incrusted with jade, obsidian, onyx or rock crystal.
These objects are now shown at the state Museum of Oaxaca.
The most beautiful tomb is surely # 105, with very well preserved
paintings representing the most important ritual and religious ensemble.
Many tombs have been looted and many other ones have yet to be excavated.
Only a few constructions of the central place are restored but the
visit leaves a moving impression of majesty and splendor.
Open daily 8AM-6PM, $57– A combined ticket for both the site
and the museum which houses the originals of the steles whose copies
are on the site. The beautiful urn of the Lady with the Jaguar Headgear
is not to be missed.
The shop and bookstore are well stocked and the restaurant offers
an excellent view of the valley.
: Ball Court on the southeast side
How to get there ? The cheapest way to get there
is the bus to Monte Albán leaving every 30 min from 8:30
AM to 3:30 PM from Rivera del Angel Hotel in Oaxaca
( ride fee : $25),
516 53 27 / 514 31 61,
514 31 52 – back from 12 noon to 5PM.
8 km from the Historic Center.
Allow at least three hours to visit the site and the museum.
You should visit Monte Albán at dusk when the stones catch
a reddish color and the clouds run on the mountains. It is beautiful
This site as well as the historical center of the capital of the
state are listed on the Cultural World Heritage list of UNESCO since
Map of the archaeological site :
Information about the capital and its surroundings :
Located about 46 km (28 miles) from Oaxaca,
Mitlá is one of the sites known since the Conquest. It is
described in documents dating from the sixteenth century, when the
Zapotecs occupied the well-preserved ensemble.
Contrasting with Monte Albán, the austere and grandiose City
of Dead, Mitlá is more human and more welcoming with big
white palaces and dark patios. The excursion to Mitlá is
worthwhile for two reasons: first the site and then, on your way,
you can stop and see the venerable cypress of Santa Maria del Tule.
It is 40m (132 feet) high and has a 58m (291 feet) circumference,
meaning it is 2,000 years old! So, it was planted at the time when
the Zapotecs built the temple of the Dancers probably with the help
of some Olmecs. It means that it “heard” the clamors
of the spectators watching the Ball games. It is said that Cortès
had lunch in its shadow during his great expedition for the conquest
of Central America.
Mitlá, the royal city, is maybe the only Pre-Hispanic site
in Mexico still alive nowadays. The pyramids close
to Mexico City, Tula
and Teotihuacán for
example, were abandoned before the Aztecs arrived. The jungle had
invaded the magnificent Maya cities of Yucatán
for centuries when Cortès landed. Tenochtitlán and Mitlá were the only ones
still radiant when the conquistadors arrived. Miltá probably
existed at the time of the Zapotecs but it reached its peak with
: view of Mitlá, church group
There are only five ensembles remaining from the old city : the
church Group, named after the church built by the Spanish in the
middle of the palaces during the sixteenth century; the Columns
Group, the best decorated and preserved; the Adobe Group, located
across the creek; the Creek Group, by the side of the previous one
and the South Group, across the Mitlá Creek.
The two most interesting ensembles are :
The Columns Group is comprised of two groups of edifices
each one made of four platforms surrounding a patio. Every face
of the palace of the Columns Group is adorned with stone mosaics
designing lozenges, meanders and Greek frets. At the north of the
main patio, there is a 50m (181 feet) long building with three windows.
A huge stairway leads to the Salón de las Columnas. There,
six 4m (13 feet) high monolithic columns, slightly conical, once
supported a roof. From there, a corridor leads to an inner patio,
the Patio de las Grecas, entirely covered with a mosaic. The second
patio, at the south, the Patio de las Tumbas, houses two underground
tombs. One of them holds the Columna de la Vida. They probably hold
the remains of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs lords.
: stone decoration on facades typical of Mitlá
Visit also the Church Group (in the middle of the palaces), named
after the baroque colonial church which was built by the Spanish
with stones from the previous construction.
the Greek frets : ornaments of tangled geometrical motifs.
Mitlá, short for Mictlan, means "the place of dead".
The Mixtècs, who occupied a vast region spreading over the
states of Puebla, Guerrero
and Oaxaca, started to enter the
central valleys of Oaxaca, a Zapotec
territory, during the tenth century. They were influential during
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and were then absorbed by the
Zaachila, among other urban centers, grew and competed against Mitlá.
Monte Albán, a holy place, was used as a necropolis. When
the Spanish arrived, the language spoken in the region was Zapotec.
At the entrance of the site, a local craft market offers local crafts,
especially textiles adorned with typical local motifs.
Only the palaces of the rulers of the old Mitlá are still
standing. The village, which is supposed to have been about at the
same place as the actual place, couldn’t be excavated. There
are remains of a fortress on the neighbor hill. It was probably
a refuge against the enemy raids.
The village of Mitlá is worth the visit because of the Zapotec
art museum with an interesting collection of Zapotec and Mixtec
objects from the valley.
Unlike Monte Albán where there
is an abundance of temples, Mitlá has only great
palaces. These palaces are comprised of two or three patios
linked by right-angled corridors and surrounded by rooms.
Some rooms, with one or three doors, had central columns
supporting a roof made of wooden beams slightly leaning
for conducting the water flow. The stone and clay walls
were covered with cut stone mosaic making Greek frets
and geometrical motifs. Some walls are covered with more
than 100 000 cut, polished and adjusted elements. It is
important to notice that, even if the Mixtecs only briefly
occupied Mitlá, there is no other place with as
many Greek frets as in Mitlá. So, it is a specific
and local form of mural decoration.
La palabra mitlá
es de origen náhuatl y deriva del vocablo mictlán,
que significa "Lugar de los muertos" o "Inframundo".
En lengua zapoteca el lugar se denomina lyobaa, que tiene
como significado "Lugar de descanso" o "Centro
o lugar de sepulcros y entierros". La ciudad se localiza
a 40 km de la ciudad de Oaxaca. Su máximo crecimiento
y apogeo ocurrió entre 950 y 1521.
Most of the golden objects made in Mexico or used
at the Aztec court had been made by Mixtec goldsmiths but this art
would have disappeared without the discovery of the treasures of
Monte Albán (Tomb #7) and Zaachila.
The Mixtecs also made wonderful painted books called Codex. Ten
have been found and are considered as the most beautiful objects
from before the Conquest.
The carved bones, the rock crystal objects and the mosaics were
a specialty of Mixtèc art.
Left picture : mosaïc
Open daily 8 AM-5 PM, $42
Map of archaeological site :
How to get there ? Departures every 10 min from
6AM from Terminal 2nd class from Oaxaca
to the village then 500m (0.3 mile) walking !
the road Oaxaca-Mitlá
If you cross the village of Santa Maria de Tule, 10 km (6miles)
from Oaxaca, stop to admire a 40m
(132 feet) high cypress with a 58 m (291 feet) circumference. It
is called "ahuehuete" or sabino. It has been standing
in the cemetery and dominating the nice church dating from the eighteenth
century for more than 2000 years.
Right picture : church of Mitlá
New inscription in 2010 : Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in
the Central Valley of Oaxaca http://whc.unesco.org.
On the way to Mitlá from Oaxaca,
are the archaeological zones of Dainzú, Lambityeco and Yagul.
Built at the foot of a hill, Yagul has the same characteristics
as Mitlá. Occupied since the Zapotec time, it underwent the
same modifications as the other sites of the area.
The Ball Court, at the entrance, looks like the one of
Monte Albán. The remains of a temple are reminiscent of Zapotèc
origins. The tombs, with facades adorned with geometrical motifs
prove that the funeral customs were the same.
picture : entrance of Tomb 30 in Yagul
In the center, a big platform, called the Acropolis, supports groups
of places and temples. The access to Tumba Triple is via a patio
surrounded by four edifices. Tumba Triple leads to three funeral
Further, there are vestiges of stone walls belonging to the old
Palacio de los Seis Patios (palace of the six patios).
The southern facade of the palace is lined with the calle de las
Grecas, a passageway leading to a big rectangular construction,
the Sala del Consejo (Council room). The discovery of about
thirty tombs confirms that it was a residential place : the inhabitants
were buried under their home. The Palace of the Six Patios was probably
the residence of the Zapotec lords.
From the top of the hill there are the vestiges of the fortress
(Fortaleza) where you have a nice view of the site and the Tlacolula
Like in Mitlá, the presence of objects made in other regions
proves the trade business characteristic of this time; there is
also a fortress on the top of a hill like in Mitlá. The palaces
built in three layers cover anterior constructions. The Greek frets
covering the walls, even if they are less important than the ones
in Mitlá, show an obvious relationship with Mitla. The palaces
are less decorated but the two cities might have been contemporary.
Open daily 8AM-5PM, $42
New inscription in 2010 : Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in
the Central Valley of Oaxaca http://whc.unesco.org
This property lies on the northern slopes of the Tlacolula valley
in subtropical central Oaxaca and consists of two pre-Hispanic archaeological
complexes and a series of pre-historic caves and rock shelters.
Some of these shelters provide archaeological and rock-art evidence
for the progress of nomadic hunter-gathers to incipient farmers.
Ten thousand-year-old Cucurbitaceae seeds in one cave, Guilá
Naquitz, are considered to be the earliest known evidence of domesticated
plants in the continent, while corn cob fragments from the same
cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence for the domestication
of maize. The cultural landscape of the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul
and Mitla demonstrates the link between man and nature that gave
origin to the domestication of plants in North America, thus allowing
the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations.
The Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in the
central valley of Oaxaca is an extensive cultural landscape that
includes caves and shelters, one of which, the Guilá Naquitz
cave has provided extraordinarily well preserved botanical evidence
of bottle gourds, beans and squash and the earliest known maize
cobs, and two others, Cueva Blanca and Gheo Shih siteshave provided
evidence of Pleistocene animals and stone tools and the seasonal
use of the abundant summer resources of fruit and small mammals.
The gradual shift from social groups based primarily
on hunting to ones that were primarily based on settled agriculture
took place in multiple areas at the same time across the Mesoamerican
region. The property is an exceptional reflection of the evolution
from hunter-gathering to more settled communities in this area of
the Oaxaca valley.
Criterion (iii): The botanical evidence from Guilá
Naquitz cave related to the domestication of other plants, squash,
gourds and beans, linked with the archaeological evidence from Cueva
Blanca and Gheo Shih, can together be seen to be an exceptional
testimony to the evolution from hunter-gathering to more settled
communities in this area of central America.
Within the sites of Guilá Naquitz, Cueva
Blanca and Gheo Shih lie all the elements necessary to sustain its
Outstanding Universal Value and they are not under threat although
could be vulnerable to over-grazing as a result of changes in climatic
Guilá Naquitz cave, together with Cueva
Blanca and Gheo Shih can be seen to convey sites, where early man
in early dates is known to have domesticated certain wild plants
and taken putative stapes towards semi-settled lives. For these
sites, authenticity can be said to be intact, even though the evidence
on which our knowledge is based is no longer physically extant in
the caves and sites.
Management and protection requirements
Even if the Yagul part of the property enjoys protection
by presidential decrees, the remaining archaeological and landscape
areas do not currently have national or municipal protection. There
are ongoing specific projects to protect this part of the property.
All visible archaeological evidence is recorded on record sheets
for each site, together with mapping and photographs.
The principal authorities responsible for the management
of the property are the National Institute of Anthropology and History
(INAH), concerned with all archaeological and cultural sites, and
the National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), both
of which have state and local branches or departments. CONANP is
responsible for the conservation of natural species and scenic spots
in the Yagul area. In conjunction with INAH it establishes agreements
with communities, favouring traditional land use practices. In 1999,
a Management Plan was approved for the Oaxaca Valley Archaeological
Corridor (CAVO), attached to the existing management plan of the
Monte Alban Archaeological Zone. The management system for the property
overall is adequate, although newly implemented and thus still being
There is a need to put in place legal protection
for the whole nominated area; an active conservation policy to ensure
grazing and access are controlled, risk preparedness measures; an
access strategy based on the carrying capacity of the nominated
area; and to promote a research programme to consider whether in
time more substantial evidence might be uncovered that could allow
the wider landscape of Oaxaca to be seen as having been a focus
for the domestication of plants and the transition to settled agriculture
that is exceptional in the context of its geo-cultural region.
End of Unesco extract.
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