Sunday, May 20, 2012

Zapotec Territory: Monte Alban

Dear Billy Ray Cyrus:  just wanted to make sure you were aware that your 90s hit, "Achy Breaky Heart", was translated into Spanish and has, for some reason, become a perennial Mexican party favorite.  In fact, the energetic strains of "No Rompas Mas Mi Pobre Corazon" from the birthday party next door kick off the soundtrack to tonight's blog post.

To the rest of our readers: today we went to Monte Alban, the Zapotec political and economic center from 500 B.C. until 800 A.D.  A few weeks ago I posted about the prior center of Zapotec civilization called San Jose el Mogote which, due to internal political alliances, led to the foundation of Monte Alban, which was inhabited by Mixtecs long after its abandonment. Due to a lack of colonial literature about the area, it is unknown whether or not it was inhabited at the time of the Conquest.

In the ten years since I last visited Monte Alban, slums have risen up into the hills, nearly enveloping the ruins into the Oaxaca City limits.  An overpriced cafe graces the grounds, providing stunning panoramic views of the city and nearby farmlands.  Sundays are free for Mexican nationals and residents, and regular admission is the equivalent of $4USD.  The large, sunny site attracts a steady stream of tourists, but maintains a calm atmosphere that allows the visitor to imagine what daily life would have been like, way back when...

Monte Alban skeleton.  Remains of many children and adults of the site indicate osteoporosis, due to the low calcium content of the otherwise nutritious diet of game, beans, squash, corn and chilies.

I have visited tons of Mexican museums and archaeological sites and am repeatedly impressed with the variety and creativity of the ceramic works.  In deeply religious Zapotec society, many anthropomorphic figures represent deities and reflect a deep admiration of animals.

An apparently hooved food/drink vessel, observed in the museum housing remains discovered at Monte Alban.  

A funny figurine that looks like a cartoon rat.

We head up the steps of one of the many temples, presumably dedicated to different deities.

The roundness of some photos is due to an ancient lens shade I purchased here for four bucks, which cuts off the corners in its effort to reduce the amount of light in the photo.

One of the many panoramas I shot of Oaxaca City from the top of Monte Alban.

The area that used to be the town center.  If you stand in the middle and clap, you hear an echo.

Another panorama.

The steps are steep!

The most poorly preserved building in the site, presumed to be another temple.  The vegetation pattern on the steps caught my eye.

Chilling atop one of the eight or so buildings we climbed.

Another portrait of the downtown, dotted with tourists, most of whom were Mexican or from a variety of European countries.  By the way, I'm obsessed with the polarization setting on my camera.

Me in a classic travel outfit.  I like to think it looks like something Jane Goodall would wear.  Anyway, it looked stereotypical enough for a group of locals to request a photo with me.

Gorgeous blooming cacti.

A bee extracts nectar from a cactus blossom.

Harold contemplates the surroundings.

These figures are supposed to represent political prisoners captured from other ethnic groups in the area.  They were not treated nicely.

Here we are!

In this nerdy photo, the placard states that Monte Alban is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tuna sorbet!  Can't get over how gross that sounds....  But seriously, this frozen dessert made from the fuchsia-colored fruit of the prickly-pear cactus is heaven-sent, especially after all the climbing at a mile and a half above sea level.  

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