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OAXACA

ARCHAEOLOGICAL ZONES

Antigua ciudad Mesoamerica del Monte Alban-Monte Alban: during its era of splendour it was the capital of the Zapoteca Culture. A gigantic city that might have had a population of 25000 inhabitants and an extension of 40 square kilometres, on a mountain that due to its altitude becomes a perfect vantage point to watch, from a bird's perspective, all the corners of the valley.

The pre Hispanic rulers imposed their law and religious precepts on the valleys and mountains surrounding the great city, which began to be build in the year 500 BC, from the formidable precincts of Monte Alban. The zone was dominated by the Mixtecas, who had relegated the Zapotecas, when the Spanish invaders arrived.

Piedra grabada de Monte Alban Regarding its name, the Zapotecas called it Dhauya Quch or Dauyacah (Mountain of Precious Stones), the Mixtecas called it Yucucui (Green Mountain) and the Spanish Monte Alban, because these lands belonged to a man called Montalban.

Zona arqueológica Monte Alban Monte Alban is the most important and visited archaeological centre in Oaxaca. Due to its historical and cultural importance, the city is Patrimony of Humanity since 1987, an acknowledgement granted by UNESCO. Once inside the old Zapoteca city, you should pay especial attention to the following places:
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    • Ball Game: the rectangular pitch where the pre Hispanic men faced each other on a sort of ritual and religious sport, which consisted on introducing a heavy rubber ball in a round stone hoop placed on the upper part, is located to the left of the Great Plaza, a central space in the northeast of Monte Alban. The participants could not use their hands on this game and it is believed that the ball represented the sun.

    • J Building: it has the shape of an arrow tip and it is isolated from the rest of the precincts. It presents two bodies and its walls have memorial tablets with inscriptions on them. It is believed that astronomic observations took place in one of its rooms.

    • Southern Platform: it is the building located at the highest altitude, which allows watching the Great Plaza of Monte Alban. It has two bodies and there are slabs of stone with carvings representing zoomorphic figures in its lower part and in the corners.

    • Palace of the Dancers: its walls show engraves of human figures with diverse characteristics, amongst which you can work out ball players, sick or malformed men and sacrificed warriors, amongst others. It is situated in the western part of the Great Plaza.
    -Mitla: it was an important Zapoteca ceremonial centre that might have been inhabited by priests. It has five architectonic units (The Columns, The Church, The Stream, The Adobes and The South) that have similarities with the precincts of Monte Alban. Its oldest buildings date back to the years 450 and 700 AD; whilst its era of splendour took place between the years 750 and 1521 AD, being one of the few pre Hispanic compounds that continued to be inhabited after the conquest.
    The archaeological zone stands out for its complicated system of frizzes, unique in Mexico, which resembles the geometrical friezes of the Egyptian temples. The most elaborated ones are in the Patio of the Frizzes. Another spot of interest is the Patio of the Tombs, which has two subterranean burials in the shape of a cross.
    Mitla is located at 46 kilometres of Oaxaca and its name comes from a Náhuatl word meaning "Place of the Dead" or "Infra World", whilst the Zapotecas called it Lyobba (Place of Burials).
    There is a church built with the stones of Mitla inside the archaeological zone; whilst there is a colourful market of artisans on the outskirts, where the handmade shawls of lace are the main attraction.
    If the interest of the travellers is to deepen their knowledge of history, they should visit the Frisell Museum (free entrance), where the largest collection of objects and utensils of the Zapoteca Culture are exhibited.

    -Dainzu: a bas-relief depicting ball players in their traditional clothes and in the midst of a competition, which was carved in stone and leaned to the wall of a gallery, is the most interesting detail in this archaeological compound, located 20 kilometres away from Oaxaca.
    Studied since 1965 by Mexican archaeologist Ignacio Bernal, Dainzu (Mountain of Organs) may have been an administrative centre of civil control with artificial terraces, flights of stairs, patios and rooms. It has three buildings, probably contemporary to Monte Alban (500 BC).

    -Lambiteyco: it is an ample archaeological compound 7 square kilometres wide, in which two figure heads representing Tláloc, the god generator of life and of the material world, stand out. They are painted in dazzling and flashy colours and are unique in Oaxaca. The zone of Lambiteyco (Mounds of Still) has not been sufficiently investigated; however, adobe and stone constructions and a pyramid that may have worked as a market can be appreciated. It is believed to have been inhabited between 600 BC and 800 AD.
    It is located at 28 kilometres from Oaxaca, following Federal Highway 190.

    -Yagul: it has the largest ball game court in the entire state and the second largest in America, besides the so-called Palace of the Six Patios, a huge construction with 29 precincts that might have been the dwellings of the rulers. Besides, it still keeps tombs and a fortress.
    Of Zapoteca origins though with clear Mixteca influence, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times, being lastly abandoned by their last settlers.
    Its name comes from the Zapoteca word Ya-gule (Dry Tree or Stick), and it is located at 36 kilometres of Oaxaca, following Federal Highway 190, on the way to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

    -Santa Maria de Tule: its handicraft market and its splendid church are two reasons that justify travelling the 12 kilometres that separate the town from the state capital; but the exclusive reason for the visit is the enormous Tree of the Tule, a extremely old Montezuma Bald Cypress (a tree original from Mexico) of approximately 2000 years of age, 40 metres high, 52 metres in diameter and weighing 5 tons.

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