(pronounced wa-xa-ka) is the most diversified state in Mexico.
The mountains are more than 3000 m high. The caves, the nice forests,
the sunny valleys and the beaches make this state a very important
tourist attraction. Every year, thousands of sea turtles land on
the coast, close to the tourist areas of Puerto
Escondido and the Huatulco Bays. Here tourists come from all
over the world to spend holidays in the warm waters of the state.
Oaxaca is also rich in traditions and customs because of its diverse
ethnic population. Oaxaca is divided into seven regions : La Cañada,
La Costa, La Sierra (Sierra Norte and Sierra Sur), La Mixteca, El
Papaloapan, El Istmo, and Los Valles Centrales. In this last region,
the capital of the state, Ciudad Oaxaca
de Juárez, is really worth the visit.
The physical presence of the Indigenous population, with sixteen
ethnic groups, 22 languages and 150 dialects is an unquestionable
asset for the preservation of the traditions in this state.
Oaxaca State is located south-east of Mexico,
over a surface of 95 364 km2 or 36820 square miles (4.8% Mexico’s
surface. It is surrounded by the states of Puebla
and Veracruz in the northern part of the state, the state of Chiapas
in the eastern part of the state and the state of Guerrero
at the west.
It has about 3, 230,000 inhabitants (more than 408,000 in the capital
and 701,000 with the suburb (data 2007).
Picture above : mixtecs
with white blanket and nice color on top
The name of the state "Huaxyaca"
means "close to the place of the acacias".
The climate in Oaxaca State is diverse because of the topography.
It is hot and dry in the Pacific coastal region, with some moisture
coming from the sea. Inland, it is mild but cold above 2 000 m.
Average yearly temperatures :
1. Spring: 25°C or 77°F
2. Summer: 28°C or 82°F
3. Fall: 22°C or 72°F
4. Winter: 16°C or 61°F
The Oaxaca coast, where the tourist destinations
of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco
Bays are, has an average temperature of 27°C (81°F).
The capital, located in the Central Valley, has an average yearly
temperature of 22°C (72. °F)
: Oaxaca market
There are 570 municipalities; among them 418 have
an indigenous predominance. One third of the state speaks its own
language. Most of the units of rural production of the state are
collective; 44.1% are under a common régime, 27.0% under
the ejidal and only 28.5% in private property.
little bit of history
The state of Oaxaca has two sites declared world heritage by UNESCO
: the archaeological site of Monte
Albán and the historic center of Oaxaca. This Pre-Hispanic
and colonial wealth are unique in Mesoamerica. Monte
Albán was already a first rate cultural center and a city
inhabited by sages, warriors, astronomers and farmers at the beginning
of the Christian era. The Zapotecs thought that man and nature together
formed the maximal divinity, an inseparable link whose relation was
mutual respect and appreciation. They developed a solar calendar of
365 days to mark the years and seasons. They also developed a ritual
calendar of 260 days to cipher the secrets of life as well as the
periods during the world was destroyed and renewed as if it was shaken
by a cosmic purifying fire.
The decline of the Zapotec culture was followed by the arrival of
the Mixtec and then the Aztecs. However, the Zapotec culture remained.
The people from these cultures built ceremony centers, citadels
and burial centers. The archaeological sites of Monte
Albán, Mitlá, Yagul, Lambityeco,
Dainzú and Zaachila, in the Central valleys, are easy
Under Moctezuma I’s reign (1440-1469), there was a garrison
and the government was carried out by a Tlacochtecuhtli (military
officer) and a Tlacatecuhtli (civil governor).
Left picture : girls at the market of
When the Spanish arrived in Oaxaca, they found a mosaic of cultures.
The different groups were devoted to their rituals and traditions.
They lived on a highly uneven terrain. In 1524, Hernan
Cortés complained in a letter to the King of Spain, about
the obstacles that stood in the way of the accomplishment of the
"This land" in reference to the valleys and mountains
occupied by the Mixtecs and the
Zapotecs "is so mountainous that you can’t cross
it even walking”. Cortés
said that "he sent troops twice against the Indigenous without
winning due to the violence and weapons of the Indigenous".
A few years later, Cortés,
delighted by Oaxaca, confessed his passion «for these same
lands that first appeared so rugged and wild».
Shortly after the conquest of Mexico
City, in 1521, Diego de Ordaz set a fortified station called
"Antequera". In 1529, the small Spanish city was promoted
to “villa” by Charles Quint and Cortés
became Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. His descendants kept the
concession of the lands until the Revolution.
During this colonial period, Oaxaca played a predominant role in
the development of New Spain.
The large flock of sheep supplied the wool for the weaving looms
of Puebla; the haciendas grew sugar
cane used to make the most famous sweets in the Viceroyalty; the
best horses are raised there; they fund gold; they made huge profits
from the dye made from the cochinilla du grana (cochineal);
the harbors of Huatulco and Salina Cruz received the treasures from
Peru, Guayaquil and Guatemala as well as the silks, textiles and
spices from the Philippines.
The development of the cities, the harbors, the sugar mills and
the industries at the time of evangelization didn’t change
the old system of beliefs and the way of life of the indigenous
communities. They integrated their old values, barely modified,
to the new religion.
Right picture : cattle
market in Oaxaca region
The Pre-Hispanic past
is passed on from father to son, century after century. It lasts
and always appears in celebrations, markets, music, dances, clothes
and fantastic food.
They still give a huge importance to the community work, the rituals
of exchange, the reciprocal help and the close relation between
the everyday life and the sacred rituals.
During the wars of Independence,
Oaxaca was temporarily occupied by the troops of Morelos. Morelos founded his
first canon factory, there.
was born in Oaxaca State (in Guelatao) as well as Porfirio
Díaz. The amazing life of Benito
Juárez started like a fairy tale : once upon a time,
there was a little Zapotec shepherd who herded the sheep in the
hills of Guelatao, small village located 80 km from Oaxaca. Normally,
he would have spent all his life among the rocks and agaves of the
hill, but a priest noticed him. He brought him home as a servant
and educated him in order to turn little Benito
into a seminarian. It is one of the many ironies in history : Juárez,
born on March 21st, 1806 and educated by a priest, was later the
main leader of the movement that fought the Catholic Church. He
soon left the seminary and went to Law School. He became a judge
and went into politics. He became governor of the state. He sought
the highest positions and he succeeded in being elected first Chief
Justice of Mexico and then President of the Republic. When the last
Viceroy left, the only structured power in Mexico was the Catholic
Church; it remained the most efficient institution during the first
half of the nineteenth century. The politicians constantly quarreled
and the Church improperly used its real power. Around 1850, it was
the most important landlord in the country and was in command of
the only educational institution.
The liberals during this time, with Juárez
as a leader, understood that the Church needed to lose its power
in order to let Mexico progress and develop. Juárez
was the inspiring main writer of the Constitution of 1857 and the
laws that withdrew most of the lands from the Church. He also limited
the immunity enjoyed by the clergy that ruled the authority of the
ecclesiastic tribunals. The Bishops encourage the Conservatives
to rebel and the troubles that followed are known in History as
the "War of Reform". Juárez,
then Chief Justice, is named President of the Republic, covering
for Miramon who resigned because he was opposed to the reforms.
The conservators are haggard but they didn’t give up. Juárez
had to face a delicate financial situation after four years of troubles
: he declared a moratorium on foreign debt payments.
Left picture : Playing cards and having
a nap when returning from the market
France and Napoléon III used this as an excuse to interfere.
They send an expeditionary force to Veracruz to invade Central Mexico.
Supported by the Mexican conservatives, Napoléon III offers
the crown of Mexico to Archduke Maximilian. For
a short period, Maximilian
believes he is governing because of the presence of French army.
with his followers on the other side of Rio Grande, in the border
city named after him. Juárez was an
inflexible man, with no sense of humor. He had a quasi religious
respect for legality; so, he refused to submit to the sovereignty
of Maximilian. He considered
this man as a usurper. He finally triumphed. When the Civil War
ended in the United States, the Americans send Philip Sheridan and
50,000 soldiers to the Mexican border. Napoléon decides to
bring back his expeditionary force and Maximilian,
noble and tragic hero, ended facing a firing squad one night in
returned to the capital and the Republic was reestablished. The
house where Juárez was a servant from 1818 to 1828 was converted
into a museum (Museo Casa de Juárez, Garcia Vigil
#609) consecrated to this great patriot. Juárez
died in the course of duty in 1872; four years later, Díaz
became President of the Republic. He remained more than 30 years
as Head of State. His authoritarianism led to the big Mexican Revolution
whose important leaders were Zapata
and Villa. Porfirio Díaz
was a hero of the “War of Reform” and the fights against
the French expeditionary force. He never showed the least respect
of legality; true obsession of Juárez.
Knowing that he couldn’t have enough votes to be elected,
he took the Presidency of the Republic by force. He was undoubtedly
a tyrant. He didn’t destroy the opposition only because it
didn’t come forward. He brought stability to Mexico
and stability led to progress. It is under Díaz’s
Presidency that the big haciendas experimented the golden era. The
country diversified the cultures and added coffee, sugar cane and
bananas to the corn. Europe and North America were asking for more
of these foods.
The foreign business men were warmly welcomed during the "Porfirism".
The British left the business of railroads and oil wells to the
Americans and French. The Mexican paid a high price for this development.
They were second class citizens in their own country. The haciendas
prospered thanks to the exploitation of the peons, truly Indian
serfs put under the yoke by a terrible rural police serving the
big landlords. In the cities, the foreign people are kings. The
workers were on the verge of revolt but Díaz
had the final say on the Trade Unions... Finally, the popular explosion
arrived in 1910. Porfirio
Díaz had to leave the power and flee. He has been discredited
for many years but he is now known for having started the economic
foundations of a modern nation.
So, here is Oaxaca, city, valley, State, country
of the Gods, birthplace of statesmen, refuge of intellectuals. However,
Oaxaca remains a favorite holiday place where people like to stroll
in the quiet streets and spend time in the ruins that remind a majestic
The dances are different depending on the region
and the community. Their rhythms are strange and profound. The specific
music was possibly born in Mérida
, Durango, Naples or Saragosse. The masks help the dancer take the
personality of a bull, a tiger, a European or the Devil himself!
The costumes are the pride and joy of their owners. They delight
not only the dancers but all the indigenous communities of Oaxaca.
The traditional cloth is both surprising and capturing. The weavers
mix the colonial techniques, the Indigenous symbols, the magic and
the colors imported from the Orient to design and color the fabric.
Most often, the colors are naturals: red comes from the grana
cochinilla, an insect that lives on the cactus nopal leaves
(once boiled, it supplies sixteen shades of red); blue comes from
the fermentation of the indigo tree; black comes from the fruit
of huizache (a thorny tree); yellow comes from rock moss; purple
comes from caracol púrpura, a sea snail that was
once captured, treated and was released back to the sea after its
essence had given the magic color purple. (It is now a protected
Maxima fiesta de los oaxaqueños: es la guelaguetza,
la cual se celebra en el mes Julio . Este es el baile del las
chinas oaxaqueñas (www.oaxacan.com.mx)
The famous Oaxaca celebration, La Guelaguetza del Lunes del
Cerro (Mondays on the Hill), is an institutionalized form
of celebration in the Indigenous communities. On the two Mondays
following July 16th (July 21st and 28th, 2014),
the representatives of seven regions of the State celebrate (in
Oaxaca City) this fiesta whose
name means “gift, offering or participation” in Zapotec
language. Through signs and codes, this celebration expresses
the Pre-Hispanic tradition with music, dances, harvest and food
from each region. The pineapples, mangos, serapes, baskets, bread
and coffee beans are there as a symbol of general good mood, sharing
and exchange. The cultural heritage of these seven regions is
carried through dances. The artists dance to the sound of joyful
music and songs. They wear sumptuous gala clothes symbolizing
each of the respective villages. You can attend to the famous
Zapotec “dance of the feathers".
The Guelaguetza brings together 16 ethnic groups from seven regions
of Oaxaca (dances and traditional songs to honor Centeotl, Goddess
of corn). The Guelaguetza is celebrated in a place Oaxaca called
” Lunes Cerro", or "Mondays on the Hill”,
during the two Mondays following July 16th. Every community of
the Oaxaca State sends its representatives to celebrate their
diverse traditions and cultures. Oaxaca State has 16 different
ethno-linguistic groups. The dancers wear traditional clothes
and execute the folklore dances proper to their region. At the
end of the dance, they throw produce from their region to the
crowd. The word Guelaguetza means offering, gift in Zapotec language
and its meaning goes beyond the festival.
picture : Pineapple dances in Cuilapán
In the Oaxaca traditional villages, at any occasion (baptism,
wedding or Village Patron Saint Day), people bring the needed
gifts for the celebration : food, alcoholic drinks, etc. The "guelaguetza"
allows a reciprocal exchange. It reinforces the social links through
The festival Guelaguetza is made nowadays as a mix of the Pre-Hispanic
celebrations with the Goddess of corn, Centeotl, and the Catholic
celebration of Our Lady of Mont Carmel on July, 16th.
The auditorium Guelaguetza : The festival Guelaguetza is held
on the Fortin Hill in Oaxaca (del Cerro Fortin) in an 11,000 seat
auditorium. The spectators have a wonderful view of the city.
Centeótl : Every year, a young woman from one of the communities
of the state of Oaxaca is chosen to play Centeótl, Goddess
of corn. It is not a beauty contest : they look for a girl who
knows the traditions of her community.
How to attend the festival Guelaguetza : You can buy the tickets
at Ticketmaster. The seats of the auditorium are very close to
the stand where the dancers perform. The seats are not numbered.
It is best to arrive early to get a good seat. Since 2005, there
are two shows a day, at 9 AM and at 5 PM. If you attend the morning
show, don’t forget your hat and sunscreen. The sun is very
strong there and there is no shade. If you attend the evening
show, bring a raincoat because it often rains during the July
Other festivities : there are many other events in Oaxaca during
the two weeks of the festival Guelaguetza, among them, concerts,
expositions, conferences and a mezcal fair where you can taste
the different brands of this alcoholic drink. There are also celebrations
independent from the Guelaguetza in several villages of the valley
of Oaxaca. You can go to Cuilapán and enjoy a more traditional
Guelaguetza during the year : If you can’t go there in July,
you can attend a Guelaguetza show + diner at the Casa Restaurant
Cantera or at the Camino Real, every Friday night.
The markets are the place of exchanges. They are
called « tianguis ». The people exchange firewood,
blankets, eggs, tomatoes, etc… The barter is a way of contact
and negotiation and in most cases better than money.
The tianguis in the Central Valleys are held every day in a different
On Sundays in Tlacolula, Mondays in Miahuatlán, Tuesdays
in Ayoquezco and Santa Maria Atzompa, Wednesdays in Etlá
and Zimatlán, Thursdays in Ejutla and Zaachila, Fridays in
Ocotlán, San Bartolo, Santa Ana del Valle and Santo Tomás
Jalieza, and Saturdays in Oaxaca.
The displays are organized by produce, custom or family. The women
wear their nice clothes, the huipiles
(tunics). Everyone usually sells one kind of produce. So, you
need to walk the whole market to have an idea of what is sold.
Left picture : oaxaca market
Cortés liked the
Oaxaca markets. They might have started with the celebration of
the first harvest. The market was held on the main plaza in Monte
Albán. The Spanish built the city of Oaxaca along a central
axis where they set houses for civil government, religious groups
and markets (places for selling, buying, exchanging and meeting).
Oaxaca is the land of seven
moles (a spiced sauce including chocolate), quesillo
(stringy cheese enveloped in balls), meat cooked in the soil, the
most delicious tamales in Mexico, wonderful
sweets, el chocolate atole (a drink made from ground corn
and cacao beans), el café de olla (coffee traditionally
prepared in earthenware pots with cinnamon), a bread cooked with
egg yolk - el pan amarillo ) and any kind of food made
The anthropologist Kent Flannery thinks that the Valleys of Oaxaca
are maybe the first place in America where corn grew. The history
shows that Oaxaca food can be explained through a mix of Spanish
food, Indigenous traditions, Aztec food and baroque colonial traditions.
Every Oaxaca dish represents many hour of cooking. For example,
need to be washed, roasted and soaked. The chilis need to be grilled
and ground; the corn needs to be shelled and cooked in the soil,
then stuffed. The tamales
are folded, tied and cooked before being served.
The Oaxaca mole
needs at least thirty one ingredients. Years ago, it was prepared
with grilled coriander, roasted garlic, pepper, cinnamon and pasilla
(dried chile). It was grilled with butter and 16 kinds of peppers.
They grinded the preparation, delicately fried it and served it
with pork, chorizos (sausages) and chicken. It was garnished
with ajonjolí tostado (grilled sesame beans). It
was a big job. Today, there are two hundred varieties of this sauce.
Right picture : chilis on the market
Art is not outdone here : Talented painters such
as Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo and Rodolfo Morales participated
in the cultural expansion of the city.
Tamayo, Francisco Toledo and Rodolfo Morales are considered as the
great Oaxaca painters of modern painting (Twentieth century). Tamayo
was born in Oaxaca in 1899. He lived in Mexico
City and New York. He died in 1991. He is one of the most important
Mexican artists of the twentieth century. Morales, “villages
builder", was born in Ocotlán
(1925-2001). He first traveled with his expositions through Europe
and everywhere in America. He then settled back in Ocotlán
where he left a spectacular production of universal and unique paintings.
Toledo was born in Juchitán. He went to school in Paris.
Like Morales, he promoted the magic of Oaxaca around the world through
his creative imagination and poetic work.
Many young Oaxaca artists went in the footsteps of these three exceptional
painters. They show, through their work, the Oaxaca landscape, the
traditions and the myths. They all share pride of their cultural
heritage. A huge part of the work of the local painters and young
artists is displayed in the city as well as in Mexico
City. In the museum, you can discover artists coming from all
over the world to draw their inspiration from the treasures of Monte
Albán and the cultural richness of the State.
Above picture : Indian
The gold and silversmiths, potters and weavers of Oaxaca are the
distant descendants of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. The Zapotecs built
on a hill that overlooks the actual city. The Mixtecs settled in
kilometers (22 miles) further, as well as in Yagul,
Dainzú, Lambityeco and Zaachila.
The visit of the ruins justifies a trip in the region. Until now,
nobody could explain where the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs came from.
However, the archaeologists say that the Zapotecs were profoundly
influenced by the Olmecs. The Olmecs settled in the Gulf Coast about
three to four thousand years ago. The steles figuring the dancers
and the hieroglyphs attest of this influence. The Regional Museum
of Oaxaca has an extraordinary
collection of Zapotec and Mixtec art objets made of gold, jade and
turquoise from the tomb VII of Monte
The State has more than 500,000 artisans who give free rein to
their talent and creativity while respecting the traditional techniques.
Visit the different workshops in the villages around Oaxaca
(not further than 30 km/20 miles). You will be able to watch the
fabrication or the production of ceramics, potteries, textiles,