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City of the Clouds - Monte Albán

sunny 30 °C

As we wander the streets of Oaxaca City we are transported by the faces around us to a time before the Conquistadors. We are white giants in this Lilliputian land and are conscious of our European ancestry. According to legend, the Zapotec elite descended from the clouds and returned there upon death, therefore they call themselves “Be’ena’ Za’a”—the Cloud People. It is therefore unsurprising that they are beautiful both in looks and spirit...


For well over a thousand years the virtually impenetrable stronghold of Monte Albán, high above the present city of Oaxaca, was the center of the Zapotecs' world...


Monte Albán was founded around 800 BC and dominated much of the Oaxacan highlands until 750 AD when it was largely abandoned by the Zapotecs. But during that time these great temples and pyramids witnessed all manner of religious rituals and events...



An elaborate game called tlachtli, (aka pelota), using a hard rubber ball, was played in this court at Monte Albán nearly three thousand years ago...


As in so much of the world, death and destruction dominate the history of this land and these inscribed tablets show images of defeated enemies who were castrated and executed here...


The Zapotecs were a warrior race by necessity but the Aztecs from Central Mexico overran them in the late 1500s. The surviving Zapotecs fought on until the Spanish Conquistadors brought new diseases and advanced European weapons. The numerous Zapotecan gods including Cocijo, the rain god, and Coquihani, the god of light, were no match for a god who could do absolutely everything and the Zapotecs were soon defeated in the name of Jesus. The Zapotecs became pacifists in the hope of avoiding total annihilation but many of their fine buildings were destroyed to provide materials for Christian structures like the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in Oaxaca City...


While the church still functions for religious worship, it is ironic that the attached convent is now a museum filled with a trove of Zapotec treasures and artifacts excavated from Monte Albán...


The ruins of Monte Albán are a reminder of a once powerful civilization but, although their majestic city in the sky may have gone, we are surrounded by buildings embodying their history and art. Despite 500 years of colonization and oppression there are more than a million Zapotecs in Oaxaca and we are humbled to be walking among them.

Posted by Hawkson 09:16 Archived in Mexico

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Thanks for taking us on this trip.

by Sue Fitzwilson

Now I must go and read about the Zapotecs. Thanks.

by Janet

A wonderful read. It makes us want to return to Oaxaca again and again.


by Stephen Burr

Monte Albán is to me the most evocative of all the ancient sites in Mexico. Your view of the ball court still sends shivers down my spine. So many mysteries. Thanks for the beautiful return visit!
Pam and Gary

by Pam Asquith

Read up on the ball game. Note that losing team was sometimes death sacrifice to the gods. Great incentive to win. Present sports team losers not quite so bad off--sacrificed only to the press.

by R and B

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