This post will be about Monte Alban and I think there is a need for another one devoted to Oaxaca. Ok, let’s start with what is Monte Alban…
Situated on a mountain 400 m above the Oaxaca Valley, Monte Albán (“mohn-teh ahl-bahn“) was once the holy city of more than 30,000 Zapotecs. How could it fit so many people? The peasants built their houses on the slopes of the mountain and an irrigation system supplied water to bottom lands east of the site and permitted intensive cultivation of the area. It is estimated that only about 10% of the site has yet been uncovered and still the largest Mesoamerican discovery had place here. in 1934 by Alfonso Caso found a buried treasure consisting of 500 pieces of gold and jade: bracelets, necklaces, nose and earrings.These pieces can be seen in Oaxaca’s Regional Museum next to the Santo Domingo church. It is of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
People have lived in the Oaxaca Valley since about 2000 BC until 800 AD when it was largely abandoned. In XIII century it was adopted by the Mixtecs, who added little to the existing architecture but left magnificent gold-laden tombs for their royalty.
The various structures of Monte Albán center on the Great Plaza, a large open space created by flattening the mountaintop. In fact all the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds were carved out of the mountain. In the center ofGreat Plaza there are three temples which contain several tombs. A tunnel is running from the Palace on the east side of the plaza to one of the temples, possibly so that people could appear here as if by magic.
To the south of these center buildings is the Observatory and on the eastern side of the Great Plaza is an I-shaped ballcourt (Juego de Pelota). This ballcourt differs slightly from Maya and Toltec ballcourts in that there are no goal rings and the sides of the court slope. The ball game played on this court had ritual significance, and if I remember correctly the winners were usually put to death as an offering to the gods. The players had to manipulate the ball using only hips, shoulders, knees and elbows.
Los Danzantes (Building of the Dancers) is the main highlight of the west side of the plaza. It is the earliest surviving structure at Monte Albán. This building is covered with large stone slabs with carvings of humans in strange, tortured positions (these are copies; the originals are in the site museum). Because of the fluid movement represented in the figures, they became known as the Danzantes, but this is only a modern label for these ancient and mysterious carvings. The distorted bodies and pained expressions might connote disease or suffering; some have clear features of childbirth, dwarfism, and infantilism. Other experts believe they are prisoners of war. It is remarkable that they are so negroid in character, because there is no record of any Negro tribe inhabiting Mexico except for one faint legend in far-off Yucatan telling of a wicked black people.
To the north of the Gran Plaza are the cemetery and tombs. The tombs contain magnificent glyphs, paintings, and stone carvings of gods, goddesses, birds, and serpents. The tombs may or may not be open to the public when you arrive, but it’s worth checking.
Tittle-tattle: Monte Alban Mezcal is the authentic Mexican spirit with the worm in the bottle. Mezcal is Tequila’s ‘big brother’ – almost 500 years ago, Spanish conquistadors looking for a rum substitute began distilling an Aztec soft drink made from the agave plant. They ended up with a premium spirit called Mezcal. Much later, a similar drink was distilled in the Tequila region, made from a different species of agave.
Monte Alban is distilled from the agave plant in the centuries-old tradition and technique. The worms live in the agave and one is added to each bottle. Legend says that the worm gives strength to anyone brave enough to eat and some even believe it acts as an aphrodisiac. Prominent on all materials is Monte Alban’s promo slogan: “Live the Legend, Eat the Worm.”