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Monte Albán

Monte Albán

Monte Albán was the ancient capital of the Zapotecs and one of the first cities of Mesoamerica and more populous during its rise, was founded approximately 500 years BC, flourishing up to 750 D.C.

Located in the center of the Valley of Oaxaca, Monte Albán exercised political, economic and ideological control over other communities in the valley and the surrounding mountains. Its main buildings: The Great Plaza, Ball Game, System II, The Danzantes, Building J, Central Buildings G. H. I., The Palace, South Platform, System 7 Deer and Tomb Number 7.

The Great Plaza. It has 200 meters long by 200 meters of wide, reason why it had to cut off the rocky protrusions and to fill some holes.

Ball Game: It is located to the left of the entrance to the Great Plaza, presents the characteristics of the ball games of the region. This field is delimited by two structures of rectangular base on the sides, with very sloping slope; the eastern one has a sculpture that represents a “chapulín” (grasshopper) in the upper part, the platform located to the west presents a staircase, flanked by two trowels finished in slope, with two stelae in the upper part, in the corners of the headwaters there are two small niches.

System II: Is a structure of two bodies with a staircase, flanked by two trowels, finished in slope and double scapular boards. In the upper part there is a small temple of rectangular base with five columns to the front and some more back without lateral walls; to the south of this element there is a tunnel roofed with angular vault that communicates us with the central buildings.

The Danzantes: This building of three bodies belongs to the era III B, with walls of slope covered with gravestones sculpted with the representations of human figures in very strange positions and with physical features characteristic of the Olmec sculpture.

Building “J”. It is separated of the other buildings, is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, due to its orientation and shape. Like an arrowhead, it has two bodies, its staircase faces north-west, its walls are vertical, covered with gravestones with inscriptions, it is believed that the anterior chamber served for astronomical observations, but this is not proven; this building belongs to the era II. 

Central buildings G. H. I.: These buildings are located in the central part of the Great Plaza. The Central Building H is the biggest; it has two bodies, with a large staircase, two tombs and the temple at the top with two chambers and two columns at the entrance, very close to the lateral walls. It is believed that this building belongs to the era III A; was still used at the end of the era III B. In front of the main staircase there is a small temple of quadrangular base, where the famous mask of the God Murciélago (bat) was found, elaborated in jade.

The Palace: It is a structure integrated by two bodies, with a central staircase, with trowels finished with slopes, presents in the upper part 13 rooms grouped around a central courtyard, on the entrance of this set, there is a lintel, recently placed.

South Platform: It is a very large structure that closes the square on that side. Of two bodies, in the upper part there are two mounds, from this place can be observed completely the Great Ceremonial Plaza. In the lower part of it and in the corners are built in various stelae with reliefs of zoomorphic figures, as well as some offerings.

System 7 Venado:
Sistema 7 Venado: To reach this place it is advisable to walk on the top of the south platform, towards the southeast that is located about 250 meters away from the Main Square (main plaza). They are four structures around a square oriented towards the four cardinal points.

Tomb number 7: Exploring it on January 6, 1932, the Mexican archeologist Dr. Alfonso Caso, found an interment with a rich number of offerings, considered as a great archeological treasure, which is exhibited in the Museum of the Cultures.  The layout of the tomb is of rectangular base, integrated by antechamber and chamber with cover of angular vault. It is one of the few that have been found, although already deteriorated, with its offerings intact.

Aditional Information

The archeological zone of Monte Albán, belonging to the zapotec culture, is the most important in the area of Oaxaca. Its cultural development and its monumental architecture have made it representative of the region, in the Mesoamerican sphere. The prehispanic complex sits on the top of a hill that prorudes to the southwest of the city of Oaxaca. It is located 1948 meters above sea level (400 more than the level of the valley of Oaxaca).

The prehispanic name of Monte Albán has not been accurately identified. The descendants closest to the zapotecs mentioned that the hill was known as. Dhauya quch o Dauyacach “Cerro de piedras preciosas”. For their part, the Mixtec identified it as Yucucui “Cerro verde”. From the century XVII, the place is known with the name of Monte Albán, because at that time, the lands belonged to a Spanish named Monte Albán or Montalbán.

Dr. Alfonso Caso, mexican archeologist, was on charge of the first explorations and restorations of the archeological zone. His project, which contained 18 seasons, began in 1931 and ended in 1958. Based on studies of the architecture of the buildings, tombs, ceramics and jewelry, he determined that the history of Monte Albán was divided into very different periods, one of the other, in terms of its social organization, population density and exchange activity.

In this way, he established five periods denominating them: Monte Albán I, II, III, IV y V; from the year 500 B.C. until the year 1521 of our era; each one of them with their respective subdivisions. These periods totaled fourteen centuries of continuous occupation, plus six centuries in which, somehow, the site, already abandoned, was important for the inhabitants of the Valley of Oaxaca. With this, it came to the formal recognition that the two main cultures that made possible the prehispanic history of Oaxaca were: Zapotec and Mixtec. 

The area explored and restored corresponds to the center of the old Zapotec city; covers 7 kilometers of the total set, which extends to more than 20 Km2. It includes several hills, among them the hills of the “Gallo” and the “Bonete”; the area is adjacent to the agencies of San Martín Mexicapan and San Juan Chapultepec and with the municipalities of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, San Pedro Ixtlahuaca and Santa María Atzompa. The Main Square, an integrating center of the complex, is surrounded by pyramidal basements, terraces, plazas, courtyards and shrines, where temples and palaces lay. All these architectural spaces are built of stone.

Most of them show the last era of construction; however, in some of them, parts corresponding to the earliest eras can be observed, which make it possible to note the overlaps which have occurred over the centuries. The buildings are characterized by their horizontal design, accentuated by the staircases bordered by trowels that top with a board, called a “double scapular”, typical Zapotec vision of the Teotihuacan theme, board on slope.

The scapular board, a decorative element, characteristic by its E-shaped silhouette, lying down and extended, is reinforced by its simple recessing of faces, and contributes, not only to trim the main volumes of the temples and palaces, but also to confer unity to the diversity of the whole.

The most characteristic buildings that are distributed around the Plaza are: Ball Game, Temple II, Temple P, East Palace and Temple Q (east side); the Ball Game stands out for its integrity, and the East Palace for the rooms that contains. Temple G, H, I and J (to the center of the square); Building J has been considered as the first astronomical observatory in Mesoamerica, is very characteristic by the decline of its central axis with respect to the orientation of the other buildings, as well as by its relieves denominated of the conquests.

South Platform (to the south); stands out for its monumentality and the reliefs of its basement, which represent numerical systems, writings and characters that define chronological and war scenes. System M, Wall of the “Danzantes”, Building L, Building K and System IV (west side). The Wall of the “Danzantes” contains a series of stelae that, through reliefs, represent human characters, with abilities in movement, which gave them this name. By their physical characteristics they are considered of the Olmec culture, identified as the oldest in Mesoamerica.

North Platform, Sunken Patio, Building A and B, Geodetic Vertex Building (North Side). The North Platform stands out for its monumentality and for the congregation of several platforms, Tomb 104 stands out for its murals, lintels, jambs with reliefs and funeral offerings of mud; is located at the back of the North Platform. Tomb 7, where the treasure of Monte Albán was found, by Dr. Alfonso Caso, is located in the northeast, isolated from the Main Square.

On the slopes that surround the Main Square are various structures, identified as rooms, tombs and common burials. At the entrance to Monte Albán is the Site Museum, where the visitor can have an approach with the sites that he will visit within the archaeological zone.