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Up Close and Personal: Monte Albán (A Photo Journal)

Updated on October 29, 2012
View from North Platform (a top of Building E) looking southwest towards System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M.
View from North Platform (a top of Building E) looking southwest towards System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M. | Source

I have covered Oaxaca City and two other places, "off the beaten path", but have not covered one of the major sites of Oaxaca, Monte Albán.

Whether or not you are an archaeologist is irrelevant to enjoy these ruins. Spectacular views from atop this plateau in the middle of the Valley of Oaxaca will render anyone speechless.

View from North Platform (from the Sunken Patio) looking southeast towards System H, the Observatory, and South Platform.
View from North Platform (from the Sunken Patio) looking southeast towards System H, the Observatory, and South Platform. | Source

Topographical Information From Oaxaca City to Monte Albán

show route and directions
A markerZócalo -
Zócalo, Bustamante S/N, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
get directions

B markerMonte Albán -
Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico
get directions

Background

The ancient Zapotecs captial was one of the first cities in Mesoamerica. Archaeologist's have been debating weather or not it was one of the first cities to develop a market place. An area set aside for the purpose of offering goods to acquire other goods. As an Anthropologist that has written papers on these ruins and studied it during college, it was a must see on my places to visit in Mexico. Instead of taking the suggestions from people that have been to the site and my guidebook, I walked to the ruins.

I woke up with the rising sun one morning, had my breakfast, coffee, and headed out the door. According to my map, the site was 4 kilometers away, straight up a mountain. I wondered down countless roads taking in the sights and sounds of the waking city. I had not a care in the world. As I passed the zócalo, hundreds of police gathered in front of the adjacent cathedral preparing for the thousands of tourists who would fall upon the city for this holy week. After about a half hour of walking, I realized that I had yet to climb the infamous mountain the site sat upon. Never the less, I continued walking until eventually I found a sign that said, "Monte Albán 12 km." I shrugged my shoulders and followed the signs through various parts of the city few tourists walk (most have a car). I passed countless food vendors and little shops until I reached the curvy road which would lead me to the entrance of the site. About half way up the mountain a truck stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I shook my head and politely declined. The truck took off with the people in the bed looking at me in disbelief while the driver was most likely thinking, "crazy gringo."

Monte Albán is a breath taking site which sits a top a plateau consisting of a North and South Platform. Buildings flank either side of the central lawn with three other buildings and an observatory in the middle. The site was inhabited from around 500 BC-750 or 1000 AD (depending on source) and went through various prehispanic periods (Middle Formative-Late Classic). Over this 1,500 year span, the site went through various phases in which buildings were constructed or expanded.

Many of the structures at Monte Albán contain evidence of Teothuacán influence through architecture and ceramics. This shows that trade (of goods or ideas) or even a migration took place.

(The video below was uploaded to youtube by SolTrekkers.)

Monte Alban Oaxaca

Map of Monte Albán.
Map of Monte Albán. | Source

Entrance

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Looking north from the Ball Court towards Building A.View of Ball Court from the east.View from Ball Court looking west towards System H, System IV, and Temple of the Dancers.Looking at the Ball Court from west to east.
Looking north from the Ball Court towards Building A.
Looking north from the Ball Court towards Building A. | Source
View of Ball Court from the east.
View of Ball Court from the east. | Source
View from Ball Court looking west towards System H, System IV, and Temple of the Dancers.
View from Ball Court looking west towards System H, System IV, and Temple of the Dancers. | Source
Source
Source
Looking at the Ball Court from west to east.
Looking at the Ball Court from west to east. | Source

North Platform

The North Platform consists of four Temples, six Buildings (A, B, D, E, VG, and the Temple of Two Columns), and the Sunken Patio. Some tombs are located to the north. Underneath the structures on the North Platform are a labyrinth of under ground passages, possibly used by elites.

This platform is believed to have served as a residential area for elites or high-ranking nobles.

Building VG is the largest structure of the VG System (Buildings D, E, VG, and the Temple of Two Columns) and contained the remains of a noblewomen. The buildings are (starting from the north, moving in a clockwise direction) Building E, VG, D, and to the Temple of the Two Columns.

The Sunken Platform is located in the center complete with an altar in the middle. The most well known parts in this area of the ruins are the tombs.

Of the tombs, the most famous are 7 and 104. Tomb 104 (northwest of the North Platform) displays the Zapotec's mastery of art and adoration to the gods. Tomb 107 (northeast of the North Platform) is the most famous. Archaeologist found gold, amber, and jade (a precious turquoise stone), silver, alabaster, and bone tools. However, the tombs are not always open to the public.

North Platform

Click thumbnail to view full-size
System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M from the Sunken Patio.Sunken Patio looking towards North Platform Pyramids.Building AView from lawn east of Building A looking southeast.View from lawn east of Building A looking northeast.Looking south from the Temple of Two Columns over the Sunken Patio, over the Main Plaza to the South Platform.Building VGView from Building D looking directly south.View from Building D looking southwest over the Sunken Patio towards System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M.Looking at the grassy area between the Sunken Patio and the Temple of Two Columns.Temple of Two Columns from Building D.From Building D looking east.Building D from Building E.Tomb 104 in the distance.View of VG System from the northwest.
System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M from the Sunken Patio.
System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M from the Sunken Patio. | Source
Sunken Patio looking towards North Platform Pyramids.
Sunken Patio looking towards North Platform Pyramids. | Source
Building A
Building A | Source
View from lawn east of Building A looking southeast.
View from lawn east of Building A looking southeast. | Source
View from lawn east of Building A looking northeast.
View from lawn east of Building A looking northeast. | Source
Looking south from the Temple of Two Columns over the Sunken Patio, over the Main Plaza to the South Platform.
Looking south from the Temple of Two Columns over the Sunken Patio, over the Main Plaza to the South Platform. | Source
Building VG
Building VG | Source
View from Building D looking directly south.
View from Building D looking directly south. | Source
View from Building D looking southwest over the Sunken Patio towards System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M.
View from Building D looking southwest over the Sunken Patio towards System IV, Temple of the Dancers, and System M. | Source
Looking at the grassy area between the Sunken Patio and the Temple of Two Columns.
Looking at the grassy area between the Sunken Patio and the Temple of Two Columns. | Source
Temple of Two Columns from Building D.
Temple of Two Columns from Building D. | Source
From Building D looking east.
From Building D looking east. | Source
Building D from Building E.
Building D from Building E. | Source
Tomb 104 in the distance.
Tomb 104 in the distance. | Source
View of VG System from the northwest.
View of VG System from the northwest. | Source

Main Plaza (Central Area)

The Main Plaza can be broken down into three separate groups: east, west and central groups. In total, there are nine Buildings (II, IV, G, H, I, M, N, O, P, and Q), the Temple of the Dancers, the Palace, three stelae (12, 13 and 18), the Observatory, the Ball Court, and an altar. There is a lot going on here, so lets look at the Main Plaza group by group:

  • East Group: Contains three Buildings (II, P, and Q), the Palace, and the Ball Court. Building P is believed to have been used along with Building H (Central Group) in ceremonies. Little to no excavation has taken place on Building Q. Believed to have been an elite residence, the Palace conforms to archaeologists ideas of how they look. A large (unexcavated) tunnel has been found under the structure running under the Main Plaza. The Ball Court is one of two believed to have existed at Monte Albán and falls under the I-shaped courts.
  • Central Group: Contains three Buildings (G, H, and I), an altar, and the Conservatory. Buildings G, H, and I are all connected into one complex (System H). They run down the center of the Main Plaza. Even though they are regarded as separate buildings, it is accepted that they were all one large ceremonial structure that would have been key to the site given its central location. The altar, which was placed between Building H and Building P, resembles that of the one from the North Platform. A jade bat/mask was excavated from the altar and now resides at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. No other building similar to the Observatory has been found in all of Mesoamerica. Archaeologists believe it was used for observing the cosmos.
  • West Group: Contains four Buildings (IV, N, M, and O), two stelae (12, 13 and 18), and the Dancers Gallery. System IV (Buildings IV and N) is a temple/patio/altar complex and could have served as a viewing area for ceremonies taking place at the main temple (System H). Underneath the system of buildings are tunnels believed to have been used by priests. System M (Buildings M and O) could have also served as a viewing area for ceremonies taking place at the main temple. Stelae 12 and 13 are apart of the Dancers wall which depicts war captives being sacrificed. The Temple of the Dancers housed stelae (similar to 12 and 13) and is believed to have been built in tribute to the military success of Monte Albán. Around 200 AD, some of the stelae were removed and distributed around the site to be used as building material.

Central Area

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Stelae 18 (Next to System IV)View of System IV from the south.Temple of the DancersSystem MDancer stelae on the wall inside of the Temple of the Dancers.Stelae 12 and 13Stelae 12 and 13North Platform from in front of the Temple of the Dancers (Building G on the right hand side).System HObservatory (back)View of North Platform from in front of the South Platform (System H on the left hand side).The Palace The Observatory (front)Building H in the background with the altar in the Main Plaza on the ground (looking from Building P)The Palace in the background with Building P to the left and the altar on the ground.Building II
Stelae 18 (Next to System IV)
Stelae 18 (Next to System IV) | Source
View of System IV from the south.
View of System IV from the south. | Source
Temple of the Dancers
Temple of the Dancers | Source
System M
System M | Source
Dancer stelae on the wall inside of the Temple of the Dancers.
Dancer stelae on the wall inside of the Temple of the Dancers. | Source
Stelae 12 and 13
Stelae 12 and 13 | Source
Stelae 12 and 13
Stelae 12 and 13 | Source
North Platform from in front of the Temple of the Dancers (Building G on the right hand side).
North Platform from in front of the Temple of the Dancers (Building G on the right hand side). | Source
System H
System H | Source
Observatory (back)
Observatory (back) | Source
View of North Platform from in front of the South Platform (System H on the left hand side).
View of North Platform from in front of the South Platform (System H on the left hand side). | Source
The Palace
The Palace | Source
The Observatory (front)
The Observatory (front) | Source
Building H in the background with the altar in the Main Plaza on the ground (looking from Building P)
Building H in the background with the altar in the Main Plaza on the ground (looking from Building P) | Source
The Palace in the background with Building P to the left and the altar on the ground.
The Palace in the background with Building P to the left and the altar on the ground. | Source
Building II
Building II | Source

South Platform

The South Platform is dominated by the large temple located in its center. It also closes off the Main Plaza to the south. Several stelae were found here, but they have been moved to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. However, two stelae remain in this area of the ruins. In order to reach the summit of the South Platform, you must climb approximately 50 feet up a massive staircase.

From a tourist perspective, the South Platform doesn't have as much to offer as the other areas of Monte Albán. However, the panorama views of the valley are astounding.

South Platform

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View across Main Plaza from the South Platform stairs (Observatory, System H, then North Platform)East Group from South Platform stairs.West Group from South Platform stairs.Temple TempleView of System M from South Platform
View across Main Plaza from the South Platform stairs (Observatory, System H, then North Platform)
View across Main Plaza from the South Platform stairs (Observatory, System H, then North Platform) | Source
East Group from South Platform stairs.
East Group from South Platform stairs. | Source
West Group from South Platform stairs.
West Group from South Platform stairs. | Source
Temple
Temple | Source
Source
Temple
Temple | Source
View of System M from South Platform
View of System M from South Platform | Source

Final Thoughts

When visiting the site, take your time going from place to place. This archaeological zone is massive. I spent about 3 hours wondering around the ruins and then another hour in the museum. Vendors outside (and sometimes inside) the site offer a wide variety of items that can be negotiated down to a reasonable price. Don't feel pressured into buying items sold in the gift shop. They can be rather pricey.

© hockey8mn, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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    • bankscottage profile image

      bankscottage 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Hockey8mn, great detailed explanations and fantastic pictures. Makes me want to go back to Mexico and see everything I missed. Forget the tourist places, these are the sites to see.

      Voted up, awesome and shared.