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Posts Tagged ‘Villa de Zaachila’

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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One of the great things about having friends come to visit, is going places and doing things not on the usual agenda.  Thus, last week, while accompanying my friend B on a private tour of sights outside Oaxaca city, the guide asked if we knew about the Muertos murals in Villa de Zaachila and would we like to see them.  Absolutely, we said!

In late October, prior to Día de Muertos, young artists are invited to paint Day of the Dead related murals on the walls of Calle Coquiza, the street that connects the church, Santa María Natividad, to the municipal cemetery.  Customs, beliefs, and legends provide the inspiration, as well as day-to-day activities.

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Flor de Piña dancers welcome residents and visitors to step through the doorway to the land beyond.

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Where electric meters serve as faces.

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And, telephone poles add a third dimension to the design.

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Painted pitchers and candles nestle in vegetation escaping from under a portón.

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And, a dancer frolics in sand waiting to be mixed into concrete for construction next door.

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Skeletons use an electric meter to get a leg up in climbing the conduit.

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Trees provide shade, as Pan de Muertos is baked in an outdoor oven.

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Leaves flutter above, as Bu’pu del Valle (chocolate atole) is frothed with a molinillo before being served in traditional hand-painted jicaras.

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Flowers tumble over the wall to adorn a catrina portrait’s hat.

The murals along the walls of Calle Coquiza remain throughout the year — until replaced by the next Día de Muertos artists’ offerings.  In addition, during Day of the Dead, this Calzada de los Muertos (Road of the Dead) is paved with sand paintings.  It is definitely going on my Muertos “must see” itinerary.

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Crossing the Plaza de la Danza, on my way to the market this morning, I saw stilt people!

Stilt dancers sitting on ledge, Basilica of Soledad in background

The all-male stilt dancers of Villa de Zaachila were waiting to perform the Danza de los Zancudos at the 22nd conference of the Oaxaca-Centro Alcoholics Anonymous.  Once they took the stage there was much cheering and good-natured catcalls from the 75% male audience

The Dance of the Zancudos originated in the San Pedro neighborhood over 100 years ago and is one of the few places the dance can still be found. The origin of the Dance of the Zancudos is in a promise the inhabitants of Zaachila made to Saint Peter. The story behind it states that an old man encountered an apparition of Saint Peter who asked the community build a church in his name. The apparition appeared each day until it was captured by the local people and enclosed in a small church. Guards were posted at the entrance with rifles and machetes. However, the next day, it was discovered that the saint was no longer there, and he appeared again to the old man who had originally seen him, indicated that God had sent him to protect the village. Eight days remained until the feast of Saint Peter, and the saint asked that the villagers form pairs on stilts to dance. On the feast day, the men danced on stilts while the women surrounded them with candles and incense. The dancers arrived at the foot of a hill where an image of the saint was found, which was brought to the San Pedro neighborhood where a church was constructed for it.  [Wikipedia.  Retrieved, 11/10/2013]

They performed several dances and, to the cries from the audience of, “Otra, otra, otra,” they were ready with an encore.  Baskets that had been tied to their costumes were thrown into the crowd (a la La Guelaguetza) and they exited stage right.  By the way, getting down off the stage on stilts requires a lot of help from your friends.  But once that complexity is navigated, you get to stroll over to a ledge high above everyone’s head, and have a seat.

5 stilt dancers sitting on a ledge.

Reason number 521 to never go anywhere in Oaxaca without my camera!

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