The city of Oaxaca
and its valleys are worth a 5 or 6 day visit. You can also combine
the visit of the markets and ruins.
Today, the city of Oaxaca has been protected by
UNESCO as the Cultural World Heritage since 1987 : .
It is located 488 km (303 miles) from
Mexico City, 363 km (225 miles) from Puebla.
It is easily reachable by land or air transport. The beautiful highway
crosses wonderful landscapes.
Lets start by the historic center :
The main plaza (plaza of the Constitution, ex-plaza de Armas),
the Zócalo, is the center of the city. From there, the streets
draw a griddle. Unlike the other colonial cities, only the Palace
of Government, built at the beginning of the nineteenth century,
faces the plaza.
In the corner of the plaza, there is the Church of the Company,
built at the seventeenth century. The Jesuits started the construction
of this church in 1579. It was consecrated to San Francisco Javier.
The convent was built around four rectangular patios surrounded
by arches supported by Doric columns. Because of the decree of secularization
of 1867, the building was abandoned for more than 30 years, then
sold to private interests. The building was declared a historic
monument on May, 4th, 1933. Look at the different quaint niches
in the main altar piece of the church. There are images of the de
la Conception Immaculée, images of the Virgin’s parents,
San Joaquin and Santa Ana.
The Cathedral, dating from the sixteenth century,
stands on the little plaza Alameda de León that
leads into the Zócalo. On a side note, the State Governor,
Antonio General de León, lived in this little plaza. In a
conversation with his secretary, Benito
Juárez, he got the idea of converting it into a garden.
The project ( a smaller exact copy of the Alameda of Mexico City)
was realized in 1840. It was inaugurated on October, 13th, 1843
and named "Alameda de León" to honor its founder.
The potters market takes place there. On the opposite side of the
plaza, there is the Museo del los Pintores Oaxaqueños,
small art gallery with paintings dating from the eighteenth to the
twentieth century (ave.Independencia # 607 and Garcia Vigil, open
9 AM-6 PM, Tue-Sun, $22).
The Palace of Government was built at the nineteenth
century on the south side of the Zócalo, in a neoclassical
style. It was rebuilt in 1938 with cantera verde. Two murals by
Arturo García Bustos decorate the inside of the palace. The
history of Oaxaca is told on the fresco of the main stairs. In the
middle, there are the portraits of Benito
Juárez and Porfirio
Diaz, former governors of the state, former Presidents of the
country and key personages of the history of Mexico.
There are also other personages such as José María
Morelos and Ricardo Flores Magón. Look also at the east stairs
that illustrates the cosmogony of the indigenous cultures of the
The Cathedral (open daily 10 AM-8 PM): the construction
started in 1535 but ended only at the eighteenth century. Several
earthquakes damaged it as well as other buildings in the city. The
last important reconstruction was done from 1702 to 1733. It owns
a nice baroque façade flanked with two thick clock-towers.
The facade displays a profusion of vegetal motives and bas-reliefs.
Inside, admire the imposing organ, a collection of paintings from
the eighteenth century and the images and vestiges contained in
the 14 lateral chapels.
The Zócalo was laid with cobblestones during the colonial
time and a marble fountain was set in 1739. In 1857, this fountain
was removed and replaced by the first kiosk that was itself replaced
in 1901 by a art-nouveau kiosk. The Zócalo is always well
decorated during the many celebrations held in the city, especially
for on December, 23rd (the night of
the Radish Festival), on December, 24th (Christmas Eve) and
on September, 15th (Independence Day).
Have a drink at the terrace of one of the many
bars and restaurants located under the arches ("portales").
You will enjoy looking at the clowns and listening to the many musicians.
You will be surrounded by many itinerant ice-cream vendors, balloons
vendors and shoe polishers.
Walk north on the pleasant pedestrian street M. Alcalá, with
cantera cobblestones and beautiful mansions housing shops, cafés,
restaurants and galleries. Here you will find the church and ex-Convent
Santo Domingo. This street has been closed to traffic since 1985.
On your way, stop at # 202 to visit the beautiful Museum
of Contemporary Art of Oaxaca (MACO), set in Cortès
House (but Cortès never lived there because the construction
dates from the eighteenth century). There are temporary expositions
with paintings, sculptures and photographs. The museum is open from
Wednesday to Monday, 10:30 AM-8 PM, $10, free on Sundays. Despite
modifications done during the twentieth century, the museum kept
its original layout on the first floor with nice rooms organized
around three internal patios. It displays works by Oaxaca artists
such as Tamayo, Toledo, Nieto and Aquino.
The drawing of the building respects the traditions commanded by
the Oaxaca High Society (influence of the Andalucía houses).
One of the important architectural elements of the house is the
masonry carved work of the facade, especially above the main entrance.
At # 507, the Instituto Artes Gráficas -
IAGO - (open 10 AM-8 PM, Wed-Mon, $30), displays engravings by Mexican
and foreign artists. It is housed in a mansion dating from the seventeenth
century by the side of a art library (open 9 AM-9:30 PM, daily).
It is located close to the church of Santo Domingo Guzmán.
It was founded by painter Francisco Toledo, native of Juchitán,
in Oaxaca State. It was inaugurated on November, 25th, 1988. It
contains about 500 engravings of graphic art and more than 25,000
books about everything in art. These engravings cover several periods
of history and have been displayed since the opening of the Institute.
These engravings were made by famous people such as Albert Gaultiere,
Francisco Goya, Salvador Dali, Mariano Fortuny Carbo and Henry Moore.
Some are by the Mexican graphic art pioneers such as Manuel Manilla,
Guadalupe Posada, de Francisco Goitia and the three great muralists:
José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Currently, the Institute has four rooms dedicated to one artiste
for shows during two months. The other rooms are occupied by the
library. The library has mainly books about the history of art,
museums, painters, folklore art, craft and architecture. You can
sit in the comfortably set patio.
Keep walking : you arrive at the most interesting buildings : the
church and ex-convent of Santo-Domingo dating from the
sixteenth century. It houses the magnificent Regional Museum (open
11 AM-8 PM, Tue-Sun, $51, free on Sundays and Holidays for Mexicans)
that preserves the Mixtec treasures of the Tomb of Monte Albán.
The fourteen golden wood altars of the church were destroyed in
1869 when the church was converted into a stable.
Behind a cactus garden, you discover a beautiful
religious architectural ensemble made of Oaxaca green stone. It
is a masterpiece of Mexican baroque. The construction of this Dominican
edifice started in 1575 and ended in late seventeenth century. The
Chapel of the Rosary was added one century later. The convent was
long used as a caserne by the Mexican army (until 1994).
The church is open daily from 7 AM to 1 PM and from 5 to 8 PM.
In the façade of the church, San Hipolito and San Domingo
are represented holding a small church protected by the Holy Spirit
depicted as a dove.
interior gives you a dazzling and breathtaking vision. At the entrance,
the vault is covered with Santo Domingo de Guzmán genealogical
tree. This tree is made of golden stucco, and polychrome paintings.
The busts of the Guzmán (founder of the order) family emerge
from interlaced designs of vegetal and fruits. The ramifications
end in an image of the Virgin, added at the late nineteenth century.
The vault of the main nave is also spectacular with thirty-six paintings
representing passages from the Old and New Testaments. The Oaxaca
artists rebuilt the splendid golden baroque altar piece in 1959.
You will be fascinated by the rococo altar, richly decorated with
gold leaf. The Chapel of the Rosary (annexed to the church) is an
architectural jewel consecrated to the Virgin. One can find paintings
of the Virgin and the Christ. The happy, painful and glorious "mysteries"
of the Rosary are represented on the walls of the church and on
the ceiling of the choir. The chapel dates back to 1724
"The ex-convent has access to the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo.
This beautiful museum, carefully restored, is interesting because
of the building for the ex-convent as well as the museum and the
objects displayed. The well marked tour is calendared and classified
There are 14 rooms arranged from the Pre-Hispanic culture to modern Mexico. In the first two rooms, there is a rapid
panorama of the cultures from 10,000 B.C. to 200 A.D. and from 200
A.D. to 900 A.D. through different themes as food, ceramic, conception
of universe, the funeral rites, calendar....
The third room displays the Mixtec treasures from the Tomb
VII of Monte Albán : jade and turquoise collars, goldsmith’s art (golden diadems
and feathers), carved and chiseled jaguar bones showing the importance
of funeral art during the Pre-Hispanic time.
Continue the visit of the other rooms to the very end, running through
the different époques from 900 A.D. through the Fall of the
big Cities, the Conquistadors, the Spiritual Conquest,
the Indigenes, the Spirit, the Order, the Progress, the New Nation,
the Modernity.....The last ethnographic rooms are consecrated to
the cultural plurality of the State of Oaxaca.
On the side of Constitución and Reforma Streets, the ethno
botanic garden is part of the Centro Cultural. Multi form and size
cacti, as well as plants providing natural dye used in local craft,
are grouped over more than 2ha (4 acres). The garden is open from
10 AM to 6:15 PM.
In this neighborhood, look at the house were Juárez
was a servant from 1818 to 1828. It was converted into the Museo
Casa de Juárez, Garcia Vigil #609. It is consecrated
to this great patriot. (Open10 AM-7 PM, Tue-Sat, 10 AM-5 PM, Sun,
$37, free on Sundays for Mexicans).
The museum faces the church del Carmen Alto. It is the place where
the waters of the aqueduct were stored. There is a small and friendly
typical market by the church (Mercado Sánchez Pascuas).
Two blocks up, there are the Arquitos, vestiges of an aqueduct
dating from the eighteenth century. Some arches house the entrances
of modest lodgings.
Walking down towards the Zócalo, you will pass the Ex-Convento
de Santa Catalina converted into a luxury hotel called “Camino
Real". The internal patios are worth the detour with a former
wash house and a Chapel. There are also some remains of original
If you keep walking west on Morelos Avenue, you will reach the Tamayo
Museum. It is worth the visit. It was inaugurated in 1974. There
are many archaeological pieces from the different cultures of the
Meso-America, without forgetting the Zapotec and Mixtec cultures
and the private collection of painter Tamayo (1899-1991). Tamayo
donated his collection to the State in 1975. It is open from 10
AM to 2 PM, from Wednesday to Monday and from 10 AM to 3 PM on Sundays,
$30, Morelos Avenue # 503).
The city of Oaxaca has 27 churches. Some, noticeable because of
the richness of their decoration, can be visited : La Soledad, sanctuary
of Patro Saint of the city, Our Lady of Solitude, San Felipe Neri
Church as well as San Juan de Dios (between the markets "Benito
Juárez" and "20 de Noviembre"), San Francisco
and San Agustin (more modest).
If you keep walking west from the Tamayo Museum, you will reach
the plaza of the Danza, vast esplanade paved with rock stones. It
was built for the folklore manifestations. Admire the façade
sculpted as a baroque altar piece of the Basilica de la Soledad,
built in late seventeenth century. The inhabitants still ask graces
to the Virgin and organize processions, especially for the end of
the year celebrations. Its museum is worth seeing. Look at the offerings
left by the faithful. Right now, the ex-convent houses the Municipal
Government of Oaxaca City.
You can come back on Independencia Avenue to visit the San Felipe
Neri Church, baroque church dating from the thirteenth century,
attractive because of its numerous golden carved wood altar pieces.
The one on the master altar is a beautiful example of churrigueresque
style, with the innumerable extipites (baroque columns). Benito
Juárez was wed here!
Walking down Miguel Cabrera Street, you will reach the markets "Benito
Juárez" and "20 de Noviembre" that are
always a source of joy to the visitors. The first one is consecrated
to food and craft. You can find everything you can think of: food,
local specialties, good vegetables and exotic fruits as well as
ceramics and nice fabrics.
The second one is a huge popular restaurant. You can buy the famous
moles and chapulines (grilled grasshoppers).
To be tried !
You can also go to the Mercado IV Centenario, attractive
because of the variety of the craft and the presence of many fruits
and flowers stalls. You can savor many typically Oaxaca dishes in
this market. (Calle de Independencia, corner División Oriente).
Two blocks south from this "20 de Noviembre" market, there
is the craft market - mercado de artesanías - corner J.P
Garcia and Zaragoza – open daily- 9 AM-8 PM.
123 stores sell the products from different regions of the state,
especially in textiles and potteries. There are nice pictures to
be taken of the Indian women weaving (right photo). It is a little
bit more expensive but of better quality than the two other markets.
The center ARIPO (Organismo Publico Descentralizado Artesanías
e Industrias Populares del Estado de Oaxaca), displays a panorama
of the craft of the State in a nice colonial mansion. The objects
are of good quality. It is expensive too. The center is located
north of the Museo Casa de Juárez, Garcia Vigil # 809, open
daily 9 AM-8 PM except Sundays 10 AM-1 PM. You can easily export
your purchases !
The Association of Craft Women MARO (Mujeres Artesanías
de las Regiones de Oaxaca): 5 de mayo # 204, open daily 9 AM-8
PM. There are many local crafts of good quality.
FONART Store : Crespo # 114 – there are nice craft pieces,
a little bit expensive - open daily 10 AM-7 PM.
Casa de las Artesanías, Matamoros # 105, corner Garcia
Virgil (open 9 AM-9 PM, Mon-Sat and 10 AM-6 PM on Sundays) : this
a family association of 80 workshops. It is worth the detour.
The lovers of tianguis need to go to the Mercado de Abastos,
a huge market located close to the 2nd class Bus Terminal (market
only on Saturdays). The vendors come from the surrounding villages
and display blankets, jackets, scarves, tablecloths, ponchos, sarapes,
etc... Their wives wear the rebozo, the hand-embroidered Indigenous
blouse; they carry everything to sell on their head. The place is
also full of children who will try to sell you lottery tickets or
jewelry that they make or want to shine your shoes. A firm "no"
or a gesture will make them disappear. The goldsmith is a specialty
of Oaxaca. Most of the jewelry is excellent copies of Mixtec pieces
found in the tombs of Monte
Albán. It is a craft market where you can find the craft
from the surrounding villages of Oaxaca. If you have no time to
visit these villages, this market will be an excellent choice for
Like every other colonial city, Oaxaca has many old houses with
flower patios and small shaded plazas such as the Zócalo.
In the center of the Zocalo, there is a music kiosk that makes the
public happy on concert days.
If you have time, go to the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá
(twentieth century) of French inspiration. It offers dance and theater
shows. Visit the State public Library (eighteenth century) and the
stamp collecting museum (Museo de Filatelia) in the Centro
Cultural Santo Domingo..
The Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña organizes a cultural
program every month (expositions, dances, music). You can read the
information on their blog or on a small monthly edited flyer (it
is located González Ortega # 403, corner Colón) :
Information about the capital :
The history of Oaxaca state :
Map of Oaxaca city :
Map of the state :
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