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Archaeological Zone of Monte Albán
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Monte Albán was the ancient capital of the Zapotecs and one of the first cities of Middle America, as well as one of the most populated, during its peak.  It was founded approximately 500 years B. C. and flourished until 750 A.D.  Located in the center of the Valley of Oaxaca, Monte Albán exercised control in politics, economy and ideology over other communities of the valley and the surrounding mountains.  Its principal buildings were:  the Great Plaza (Gran Plaza),Ritual Ball Court (Juego de Pelota), System II (Sistema II), (The Dancers (Los Danzantes),  Building “J”  ( Edificio “J”), Central Buildings G,H,I (Edificios Centrales G,H,I),  The Palace (El Palacio), South Platform (Plataforma Sur),   Systema 7 Deer  (Sistema 7 “Venado”) and Tomb No. 7 (Tumba No. 7).

The Great Plaza:  is a 200-meter (656 foot) square, which made it necessary to cut off rocky protuberances and fill in cavities.

Ball Court:  is located at the left of the entrance to the Great Plaza, and presents the characteristics common to the ball courts of the region.  It is bordered by two lateral structures, with rectangular base and extremely sloped walls.  The one at the east has a sculpture on the superior part that represents a locust; there are steps on the western platform, flanked by two sloped parallel beams, with two stelae in the upper section. Small niches are found in the corners of both platforms.

System II: Here is a structure of two bodies with a stairway, flanked by two sloping parallel beams and panels in the form of double scapulars.  In the upper section there is a small temple on a rectangular base, with five columns at front and back, without lateral walls.  At the south of this building there is a tunnel with angular roofing which leads to the central constructions.

The Dancers:  This construction has three structures that are from the Period III B, with sloped walls of sculpted stone slabs representing human figures in strange positions and with physical features characteristic of Olmec sculptures.

Building “J”: This building, separated from the others, is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, because of its orientation and form.  It is similar to an arrowhead and; has two sections; the stairway is oriented toward the Northeast; it has vertical walls covered with stone slabs with inscriptions.  It is believed that the chamber to the rear was used for astronomic observations, but this has not been proven.  The building belongs to Period II.

Central Buildings G, H and I:  These buildings are located in the central part of the Great Plaza.  Central Building H is the largest, and consists of two sections, with a large staircase, two tombs and a temple in the upper part with two chambers and two columns at its entrance, very close to the lateral walls.  It is believed that this building belongs to Period III A and continued to be utilized until the end of Period III B.  In front of the principal stairway there is a small pavilion with square base, where the famous jade mask of the Bat God (“Diós Murciélago”) was found.

The Palace: This is a structure consisting of two sections with a central stairway, and with joists ending in a slope.  In the upper level are 13 chambers grouped around a central patio; in the entrance portal there is a lintel, recently installed.

Southern Platform: A very large structure which closes off the plaza on that side.  Formed by two parts, there are two mounds in the upper section; from here you have a panorama of the entire ceremonial square.  Built into the corners of the lower part are various stelae with zoomorphic figures and offerings, in bas relief.

System 7  Deer: To arrive a this site it is advisable to walk toward the Southeast  on the superior part of the southern platform, which is located at a distance of some 250 meters (850 feet) from the principal plaza.  You will find four structures surrounding a plaza oriented toward the four cardinal points.

Tumba No. 7:  As the Mexican archaeologist Dr. Alfonso Caso was exploring this tomb the 6th of January, 1932, he found a burial with a large selection of offerings, considered a great archaeological treasure, which can be seen, exhibited in the Regional Museum of Oaxaca.  The tomb is on a rectangular base, and is comprised of antechamber and chamber with an angular vault.  It is one of the few discoveries which although deteriorated, still had their offerings intact.

Additional Information

The archaeological zone of Monte Albán is the most important manifestation of Zapotec culture in the Oaxacan area.  Its cultural development and monumental architecture have made it representative of the region in Middle America.  This pre-Hispanic settlement was established on top of a high hill at the Southwest of the City of Oaxaca, at an altitude of 1948 meters (more than 6300 feet) above sea level, (400 meters {1312 feet} higher than the Oaxaca Valley).

The pre-Hispanic name of Monte Albán has not yet been precisely identified.  Zapotec descendants mentioned that the hill was known as “Dauya quch” or “Dauyacach”. “Hill of Precious Stones”.  As for the Mixtecs, they identified it as “Yucucui”, “Green Hill”.  From the seventeenth century on, the site has been known as Monte Albán, because formerly the land belonged to a Spaniard whose last name was Monte Albán or Montalbán.

Dr. Alfonso Caso, Mexican archaeologist, was in charge of the first explorations and restorations of the archaeological zone.  His project, which contemplated 18 periods, was initiated in 1931 and terminated in 1958.  Based on studies of the architecture of the buildings, tombs, ceramics and jewels, Dr. Caso decided that the history of Monte Albán should be divided in periods, clearly differentiated one from another, as far as their social organization, density of population and commercial activities were concerned.

In this way he established five periods denominated:  Monte Albán I, II, III; IV and V; beginning with 500 B.C. until 1521 of our era, each one of these with its respective sub-divisions.  These epochs totaled fourteen centuries of continuous occupation, plus six centuries in which, for some reason, the site, already abandoned, was important to the inhabitants of the Valley of Oaxaca.  Accordingly, he formally recognized that the two main cultures that made the pre-Hispanic history of Oaxaca possible were:  the Zapotec and the Mixtec.

The area explored and restored corresponds to the center of the ancient Zapotec city;  it covers 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) in all, which extend to more than 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles).  It covers various hills, among them the Rooster (Gallo) and the Cap (Bonete); the zone borders on the municipal 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 Great Plaza, center of control of the zone, is surrounded by pyramid bases, terraces, plazas, patios and places of worship, where temples and palaces once stood.  All of these architectural spaces are constructed of stone.  The majority of them represents the last construction era; however, in some cases parts corresponding to the first epochs can be discerned: these permit noting the superimpositions that occurred in the course of the centuries.   The buildings are characterized by their horizontal design, accentuated by steps flanked by parallel stone slopes that terminate in a double scapular-like panel, typical Zapotec version of the Teotihuacán theme:  platform on slanting wall.   The scapular panel, decorative element, characterized by its silhouette in the form of a horizontal, elongated “E”, faced down, is impressive because of its two different levels of relief, and contributes not only to reduce the customary volumes of the temples and palaces, but also to give unity to the diversity of the complex.

The most characteristic buildings around the plaza are:  Ball Court, Temple II, Temple P, East Palace and Temple Q (east side).  The Ball Court stands out because of the harmony of its architectural elements, and the East Palace for its chambers.  Buildings G, H, I and J (in the center of the plaza):  Building J has been thought of as the first astronomic observatory in Middle America; it is outstanding because its orientation is different from that of the other buildings, and also because of the steep slant of its central axis; in addition, for its bas reliefs, dating from the time of the conquest.  The South Platform is notable for its monumental size and for the bas reliefs of its base, which represent numerical systems, scriptures and personages depicting chronological and war-related events.

System M, the Wall of the Dancers, Building L, Building K and System IV (west side):  The Wall of the Dancers contains a series of stelae which, through bas relief, represents human personages in motion, which gave them this name. Their physical characteristics classify them as Olmeca, the oldest culture of Middle America.  The North Platform, the Sunken Patio, Buildings A and B. Building of the Geodesic Vortex (North Side):  The North Platform is outstanding for its monumental size and for the congregation of various platforms.  Tomb No. 104 is noted for its painted murals, lintels, jambs with bas relief and clay funeral offerings. It is located in the back part of the North Platform.   Tomb No. 7, where the treasure of Monte Albán was found by Dr. Alfonso Caso, is located in the Northeast part, isolated from the Great Plaza.

The hillsides encircling the Great Plaza contain diverse structures, identified as dwellings, tombs and common burial grounds.  At the entrance to Monte Albán is found the site museum, where the visitors may get an orientation of the sites they will visit within the archaeological zone.

Cost: $57.00. On Sundays and holidays the entrance is free for Mexicans with voter’s ID.

Visiting hours: Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm.

 Location:

The archaeological zone of Monte Albán is located at 10 km (6 mi) west of the City of Oaxaca, capital of the state, going on the highway (unnamed) Oaxaca – Monte Albán.

Travel time: approximately 15 minute.


 

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