M and M in Mexico -Mt Alban and Mitla

M and M  in Mexico – Mount Alban and Mitla ‘

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Monte Alban is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan Municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Besides being one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, Monte Albán’s importance stems also from its role as the pre-eminent Zapotec sociopolitical and economic center for close to a thousand years.


Large-scale scientific excavations were done under the direction of Mexican archaeologist Alfonso Caso . Much of what is visible today in areas open to the public was reconstructed at that time. (cool glasses!)


One characteristic of Monte Albán is the large number of carved stone monuments one encounters throughout the plaza. The earliest examples are the so-called “Danzantes” (literally, dancers).  They represent naked men in contorted and twisted poses, some of them genitally mutilated. The figures are said to represent sacrificial victims, which explains the morbid characteristics of the figures.  The 19th century notion that they depict dancers is now largely discredited, and these monuments, dating to the earliest period of occupation  are now seen to clearly represent tortured, sacrificed war prisoners. Dancers, tortured prisoners – it is a common mistake.



A different type of carved stones is found in the center of the Main Plaza.  You can see  inserted within the building walls are over 40 large carved slabs dating to Monte Albán II and depicting place-names, occasionally accompanied by more writing and often characterized by upside-down heads. Alfonso Caso was the first to identify these stones as “conquest slabs”, likely listing places the Monte Albán leaders claimed to have conquered and/or controlled. How strange this sounds to us in the present day – a Zapotec male talking about his conquests.




The Mesoamerican ballgame or ōllamaliztli  was a sport with ritual associations played since 1,400 B.C. by the Pre-Columbian people of Ancient Mexico and Central America. The sport had different versions in different places during the millennia.  A modern version of the game, ulama, is still played in a few places by the local indigenous population. It was like racquetball. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as nine pounds. The ballgame served as a way to defuse or resolve conflicts without warfare –  to settle disputes through a ballgame instead of a battle. The game had ritual aspects including human sacrifice but was also played by women and children.  Human sacrifice? we havent had that yet at halftime at the Superbowl. ( playing field)

IMG_0039 Mitla is the second most important archeological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec culture.

safe_image-5.php Mitla is one of the areas which represents Mesoamerican attitudes towards death, as the most consequential part of life after birth. It was built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The lower world was not a bad place – it was where the dead went.   The word Mitla comes from the Náhuatl word Mictlan, meaning place of the dead or underworld. In the Zapotec language this place is called Lyobaa, meaning place of rest or burial-place.

The ancient people  of Mitla wanted to keep their dead buried near them. They believed the dead went into a different sphere.They took out the bones and dressed them up to share in special occasions. Archaeologists figured this out by the many bones that were in the wrong places when they put them back. You see a lot of this in Beverly Hills and Hollywood as well.


Mitla was inhabited since 100CE by both  Mixtecs  and Zapotecs. It was still functioning as a religious site when the Spaniards arrived in 1520.The high priest, called the Uija-tào resided at Mitla, and the Spanish likened him to the pope. Nobles buried at Mitla were destined to become “cloud people” who would intercede for the population below.[


The main distinguishing feature of Mitla is the intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that profusely adorn the walls of both the Church and Columns groups None of the fretwork designs are repeated exactly anywhere in the complex. The fretwork here is unique in all of Mesoamerica.


The two main concerns for the Mitla site are the eroding effects of wind, rain etc. and graffiti. The latter, which is mostly painted or etched, has been a serious problem at least since the early 20th century. To protect the ruins, especially the grecas, shelters have been constructed over a number of the rooms of the Palace or Columns Group. These shelters are palm thatched roofs supported by wooden beams and columns, and are intended to mimic roofs that were common in the Mesoamerican period.

The Spaniards though that the name meant hell. As it was an important site of religious significance, many of the buildings were destroyed by the Spanish. The remains were used as building materials for the churches that sit on top of the ruins.


for more Oaxaca info go to https://havefunflysafe.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/foods-i-have-learned-in-oaxaca-mexico/

Viajen Con Cuidado,


3 thoughts on “M and M in Mexico -Mt Alban and Mitla

  1. Hi Jayne,

    Being an ancient monument myself, I really appreciated this blog.


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