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Posts Tagged ‘Monte Albán’

On day three of B’s week in Oaxaca, Benito (Discover Oaxaca) returned to pick us up a little after 9:00 AM.  We wound our way up to the archeological site, Monte Albán — the imposing former capital of the Zapotecs.  Construction of this commanding site, on top of an artificially flattened mountain, began around 500 B.C.  By 350-550 A.D., it had become the economic, political, and religious center for the Zapotecs, and one of the first urban complexes in Mesoamerica.  Though we were only there for two hours, I learned more from Benito than I had on my previous five or six unguided visits.  While we were there, a specially fitted drone (archaeocopter) was being used by archaeologists — the sound was annoying, but once we figured out it was for research, it became more tolerable and rather intriguing.  There is still so much to be uncovered!

Monte Albán – looking down onto the main plaza.

Coming down off the mountain, we took the scenic route, circling around the western base of Monte Albán, often bouncing along on dirt roads as we headed south to the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapam de Guerrero.  Construction began on this massive and elaborate Dominican complex in 1556 but was temporarily halted in the 1570s and never resumed — leaving behind a towering roofless basilica, ornate frescoes, and a magnificent Gothic cloister.  There are several theories as to why it was never finished — lack of funds due to the extravagance, a dispute over land ownership, the decimation of the local indigenous population from 43,000 in the 1520s down to 7,000 in 1600, leaving few workers to construct it and natives left to convert.  Climbing the stairs up to the second story terrace yields an impressive view and site from which to contemplate the impact of the Spanish conquest.

Murals inside the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol, Cuilapam de Guerrero.

After an hour of roaming through the unfinished remains of the Ex-monastery, we returned to the van for the 4-mile drive to Villa de Zaachila.  Thursday is market day and the village was alive with shoppers.  From where we parked, we walked through the market, with B marveling at all there was for sale — from fresh fruits and vegetables to tools and kitchen ware to clothing and needlework to…. And, we never even made it to the livestock market.

Moto taxis taking people to and from the tianguis on market day in Villa de Zaachila.

Once through the market, we walked past the church and up a hill to the small archaeological site of the last capital of the Zapotecs and later conquered by the Mixtecs, not long before the Spanish arrived.  It is mostly unexcavated, but has two small tombs that can be accessed.

Tomb 1 – The Owl (Tecolote, Búho) of Zaachila.

We were about to head to lunch, when we were waylaid by Benito’s inquiry if we knew about and would like to see the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) murals decorating the walls of Calle Coquiza — a street that connects the church with the municipal cemetery.  Of course we responded that we would love to see them!  If you are in Zaachila, they are worth checking out.  You can see more of the murals on my blog post, Muertos murals in Zaachila.

Muertos mural along Calle Coquiza, Villa de Zaachila.

We were starving by the time we had walked the length and back of Calle Coquiza, so we made a beeline for the van that would take us to Restaurante La Capilla de Zaachila.  It felt so good to sit, relax, and eat!

Tortilla Zachileña de guisado al horno.

It was a fairly quiet return to the city — we were satiated by food, sights, and information.  However, following a few hours of rest, B and I met up again to stroll down to the zócalo, sip mezcal on rooftop terrace of Casa Crespo  — though the music was a bit loud, the mezcal was good and the view of Santo Domingo couldn’t be beat.

By the way, this day’s travels took us to many of the major sites where the legend of Donaji takes place.

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This morning, sun and blue sky welcomed the Solsticio de verano in Oaxaca — a beautiful way to begin the longest day of the year.

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View from the terrace:  Templo de San José, founded by the Jesuits in 1559, on the left; Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude), constructed between 1682 and 1690, on the right; and the green mountain in the far distance between the two is Monte Albán.

Happy Summer Solstice to all!

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When atop the massive plateau that is the archaelogical site of Monte Albán, one can’t help but reflect on the pre-Hispanic cultures that built and inhabited this place; cultures whose gods were of the environment — the elements and the agricultural gifts, to man and beast, those elements provided.

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Today, as we celebrate Earth Day, perhaps we need a return to the old gods…

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Fifteen hundred years may have passed since Monte Albán was in full bloom as the center of Zapotec civilization.  However, the flowering continues…

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Monte Albán on an early October morning.

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… there you are.

Green grass, stone structure, blue sky with wispy clouds

Monte Albán on a picture perfect autumn morning.

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At the top of my Oaxaca Yahoo! Alerts today…

GW professor’s research on ancient ballgame reveals more about early Mesoamerican society

GW anthropology professor Jeffrey Blomster’s research featured in PNAS journal

WASHINGTON—George Washington University Professor Jeffrey P. Blomster’s latest research explores the importance of the ballgame to ancient Mesoamerican societies. Dr. Blomster’s findings show how the discovery of a ballplayer figurine in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca demonstrates the early participation of the region in the iconography and ideology of the game, a point that had not been previously documented by other researchers. Dr. Blomster’s paper, Early evidence of the ballgame in Oaxaca, Mexico, is featured in the latest issue of Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Dr. Blomster, GW associate professor of anthropology, has spent 20 years researching the origin of complex societies in Mesoamerica. The participation of early Mixtec societies in ballgame imagery is a new aspect of his research. For the journal publication, Dr. Blomster worked with undergraduate students Izack Nacheman and Joseph DiVirgilio to create artistic renditions of the figurine artifacts found in Mexico.

While early games used a hard rubber ball, the ballgames Dr. Blomster researches bear little resemblance to today’s Major League Baseball. The games and the costumes or uniforms participants wore were tied to themes of life and death, mortals and underworld deities or symbolizing the sun and the moon. In some instances, the ballcourt itself represented a portal to the underworld.

According to Dr. Blomster, “Because the ballgame is associated with the rise of complex societies, understanding its origins also illuminates the evolution of socio-politically complex societies.”

During the Early Horizon period, or roughly between 1400 BCE (Before the Common Era) and 1700 BCE, there was little evidence of ballgame activity in the way of artifacts in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Dr. Blomster’s findings of a clay figurine garbed in distinctive ballgame costume, similar to both Olmec figurines and monumental sculptures from the Gulf Coast, indicate such engagement did take place in the area.

“Exploring the origins and spread of the ballgame is central to understanding the development of the Mesoamerican civilization,” he said. “We know there were earlier versions of a ballgame prior to the Early Horizon with both a ballcourt and rubber balls found in coastal Chiapas and the Gulf Coast, but the institutionalized version of the ballgame, a hallmark of Mesoamerican civilizations, developed during the Early Horizon. While there has been some limited evidence about the participation of the nearby Valley of Oaxaca in the ballgame, the Mixteca has largely been written off in terms of involvement in the origins of complex society in ancient Mexico. This discovery reemphasizes how the ancient Mixtecs were active participants in larger Mesoamerican phenomenon.”

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By the way, there was a lot more to these ballgames than mere athletic competitions — think ritual, conflict resolution, sacrifice.  Below is the ballcourt just up the hill at Monte Alban.

Ballcourt at Monte Albán

The stories it could tell…

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Juxtapositions…

Early yesterday morning, standing on my terrace, I gazed up, beyond the twin bell towers and dome of the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, at a hilltop only a few miles to the west… platforms of the ancient Zapotec capital of Monte Albán, one of the four Classic cities of Middle America, visible in the clear mountain air. It’s one of those sights that takes my breath away and I never cease feeling privileged to be living here, among its descendants.
Monte Albán
Then there was last night… At the base of this ancient city that once commanded the Y-shaped valley of Oaxaca, a gringo friend and I sat in my apartment, again looking west, but this time, not at the hills beyond, but at the TV in the immediate foreground. Instead of imagining those early ballgames played up on Monte Albán, we were engrossed by the modern day skills, of the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, played under a dome in a $1.2 billion dollar stadium.
TV showing 2011 Super Bowl
For you non (American) football fans, it was Super Bowl Sunday. The game was exciting… the Packers won (yay!)… and members of the losing team weren’t ritually sacrificed!

This particular juxtaposition seems to be developing into a pattern… Last year, a friend and I cheered as the New Orleans Saints defeated Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV…
Hotel TV showing 2010 Super Bowl in Palenque
… from our room, in a hotel carved out of the jungle, just a couple of miles from the stunning Mayan ruins of Palenque.
Palenque
Hmmm… I wonder where I will be next year?

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