Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oaxaca: Monte Albán

Monte Albán was the center of the Zapotec civilization. It sits on a hilltop above the city of Oaxaca and has commanding views of the valley below (that also make the pollution quite visible). It’s incredible to think of people living and worshipping there for approximately 1,200 years, especially because of it’s distance above the valley with its farming and water resources. The main (huge) plaza is arranged north-south (lined with temples to the east and west) and contains buildings and pillars for astronomical and solar observations. The funeral urns from the site are bad ass and a little scary-looking, but since the afterlife for these guys was probably a little scary (as most have been normal life), perhaps it was a good idea.

Limited explanation of the usage and society is available on the placards onsite and in the museum. A guide I spoke to recommended enjoying the spiritual feeling of the site rather than seeking details about the culture since many of its aspects remain unknown (of course, much more is known than I learned during my short stay and descendants of Zapotec cultures and speakers of related languages still reside in Oaxaca state). I was amazed by the scale of the site, which is poorly shown in these photos and the powerful feeling created by it’s alignment with the cardinal directions and the movement of the sun.
A small part of the main plaza

  • Bring plenty of water and sun protection. Guides may be hired at the entrance. 
  • Buses depart from the Zócalo and southern part of the centro on the hour or half-hour. Fully touring the site requires at least two hours. (You can also visit as part of a multi-stop tour may feel quite rushed with this option.) 
  • Many artifacts from the site and surrounding region are on display with explanations (Spanish only) in the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, next to Santo Domingo.
  • The ice cream and hat vendors at the entrance had quality wares and good prices.
Temple at the north of the site with Oaxaca city beyond

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