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Monte Alban Archaeological Site
Alban is an ancient Zapotec tribe archaeological site situated 8 km (5 mi)
West of Oaxaca, Oaxaca in Mexico. It was one of the first cities in
Mesoamerica and at its peak it covered an area of 20 square kilometres.
ancient name for Monte Alban Archaeological Site was Dani Biaa or "sacred mountain" or "sacred
hill". Modern name of Montalbán was given the Spanish
conquistadors after similarity in landscape with Alban Hills in Italy. Only
small central portion of the settlement is uncovered. Archeologists still
work on surrounding area that was inhabited mostly by regular people. Monte
Alban was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant
architectural and historic value for the whole World.
This site was chosen as a strategic location on a plateau
(elevation: 1,900 meters/ 3,280 feet) overlooking the junction of Atoyac and
Salado river valleys. Rising at a height of 300 meters above valley floor it
was settled by the Zapotecs in 800 BC. Refugees came from former capital of
San Jose Mogote in Etla valley. Around 500 BC the city grew large enough to
undertake massive construction. A top of the mountain in the center of the
city was cut to make way for a I- shaped plaza to make room for palaces,
ball court, temples and other important civil and religious structures.
Zapotec capital reached a peak of its political and economic
might during Classic Period (300- 750 AD) with over 25,000 inhabitants. It
established trade routes with Teotihuacan (north of Mexico City) and Tikal
in Guatemala. Priests followed a 365 days calendar to mark different time
period of city life. Monte Alban was abandoned around 750 AD in favor of
another capital of Zaachila in the Zimatlan valley. New tribe of Mixtec
people settle briefly on the ruins of the abandoned city in 1300- 1400 AD.
They left many ceremonial offerings in the Tomb #7.
North Platform (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
North Platform is a large platform with several temples at
the top. A beautiful view of the valley bellow opens here. You have to climb
an impressive staircase to get to the top.
South Platform (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
South Platform is situated on the South end of the I- shaped
great plaza. Much of its territory is covered by a single large platform
with a small pyramid at the top known simply as a Mound III. This part of
the city is also accessible by a large staircase.
Ballcourt (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
Ballcourt or Juego de Pelota was an important religious site
where Zapotecs played their games. The players could only use their
shoulder, elbows, knees and hips to hit the ball. The players of the losing
team were sacrificed to the pagan gods. In the ancient times it was covered
by red stucco, but today most of it is gone. It is situated in the Eastern
side of the Central Plaza.
Palace (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
This was probably a residential buildings of an important
priest or a ruler of the city or possibly both. Archeologists discovered a
tunnel (pictured left) that led from the palace to the pyramid H in the center of the Grand
Plaza. It was probably used during religious ceremonies and a head of this
ceremony would use this tunnel
to suddenly appear in the center of the platform to awe of all residents who
Tomb #7 (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
This tomb was constructed in the last decades of the
existence of Monte Alban. It was constructed to keep the body of ruler of
Mixtec people. It was uncovered by Mexican archaeologists in the early
Building J (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
Building J situated in the center of the plaza served
probably as a astronomical observatory for ancient religious leaders.
Los Danzantes (Monte Alban Archaeological Site)
Los Danzantes is a group of religious buildings in the South-
western part of the central plaza. The name is translated as "dancers".
It was given by archeologists due to Olmec carvings that were represented in
various poses. In reality these were probably mutilated and killed prisoners
who were captured in numerous battles that the Zapotecs carried out. These
slabs are only copies. The actual reliefs are kept in the archeological and
historic museum of the site.
On the map to the right you trace the movement of the Zapotec people from
their previous home of San Jose Mogote in Etla valley to Monte Alban in the
center of the three valleys and further south to their later capital of
Zaachila in the Zimatlan valley.
Same view of Monte Alban in the Dry and Wet seasons. Plan your trip
according to a season.