City (elevation: 1,550 meters or 5,000 feet) on a plateau to
the west lies the august archaeological site known today as Monte
Albán (elevation: 1,900 meters or 3,280 feet). The city was
once one of the largest in the Americas and continues to inspire
Monte Albán was inhabited for more than 1,300
years (500 BC - 850 AD). For the legacy of cultural achievements,
declared this a World
influence reached the Central
Valleys around 1200 BC. Later the Zapotecs
arrived in the Central
Valleys around 800 BC. Around 500 BC they began to level the
top of a mountain to construct pyramids, terraces, dams and canals.
That the city was literally carved out of the mountain underscores
its sacred topography.
The original Zapotec name of the site was Dani Biaa ('sacred mountain').
Zapotec culture blossomed during the Classic Period (300-750 AD),
in which Monte Albán established relations with other powerful
cities, namely Teotihuacán
(north of present day Mexico
City) and Tikal in Guatemala.
The population peaked in the period between 450-700 AD in which
the city supported more than 25,000 people.
At the end of this period, the city began to decline until it was
appropriated by the Mixtecs
at the beginning of the 13th century. The Mixtecs constructed a
few buildings and are best known for the ceremonial offerings left
in Tomb #7.
Spanish colonists later christened the site Monte Albán.
THE NATURAL WORLD
Monte Albán was built 300 meters above the valley floor
and commands a spectacular view, particularly from the ridge on
the northern end of the site. Naturalists have always found this
sanctuary one of the best places for birding in the country. Lizards
The site is aligned on a north-south access. The entrance lies
on the north-eastern side. We won't go into many details in this
brief overview, but two structures are similar to other sites in
the region and merit special attention.
- The I-shaped ball court is located near the entrance. The 'juego
de pelota' or Mesoamerican
Ballgame played an important role in society. Other ball courts
can be seen at nearby Yagul
and Dainzu. A smaller, unrestored court is located across the parking
lot to the west of the main site.
BUILDING OF THE DANCERS
- Once thoughts to represent dancers ('danzantes'), the carvings
are said to display prisoners captured in battle, mutilated and
later killed. Forerunners of these figures are also found at San
- Nearly 6 meters high, Stela 18 is the tallest stelae found at
this site. It was erected between 100 BC and 300 AD and is believed
to have been used to verify the solstices
There are several dozen vendors with permission to sell stone replicas
to visitors. They hike up the hill each day from the small town
Antonio Arrazola. Look out for Filadelfo
Moreno. His ceramic figures are favorites.