As the church bells rang at 8 am, we lazily rolled out of our comfortable bed to have some breakfast and greet the day. Our second day in Oaxaca would take us out of the city to see Monte Albán, the Tule tree, and the Sunday market in Tlacochahuaya (try saying that one fast!).
We had booked a private guided tour with Discover Oaxaca Tours and we were excited to begin our adventure. Benito Hernández, our guide, is of Zapotec descent and has lived most of his life in Oaxaca City. As a result, he is very knowledgeable about the history, culture, and traditions of the area...especially Monte Alban, which was the first stop of the day.
Just 10kms from the city of Oaxaca, Monte Albán is the largest archeological site in the state of Oaxaca, was one of the very first cities in the new world, and was the capital city of the "cloud people" - the Zapotecs. From Benito, we learned this city of nearly 30,000 people existed for over a millennium, originally founded 500 years b.c. where it grew and dominated nearby valleys until approximately 800 a.d.! We found it interesting that this city existed long before the Aztecs and Mayans arrived, yet almost nobody has heard of the Zapotec empire.
Benito went on to tell us that Monte Albán was the centre of the Zapotec culture and was considered a place of divine worship. In the city lived metalsmiths, architects, priests, astronomers, royalty, and wisemen. They developed both a written and numerical system and also used a calendar of 365 days. In fact, their systems and traditions continued to be used until the time of the Spanish conquest, which was almost 800 years after Monte Albán had been abandoned.
Perhaps the site for Monte Albán was chosen purely for its extraordinary beauty. At the summit of the hill, which rises 400m (over 1,300 ft) from the valley floor, gives you the impression of being up in the clouds. Furthermore, the architecture of almost every building, including the ball court, lines up perfectly with celestial bodies and astronomical occurrences, creating a precise place where the heavens meet the earth. Surely the ancient Zapotecs had a feeling of power, overlooking the vast and breathtaking valley. Today, of course, the wilderness below has been replaced with the city and villages of Oaxaca - but it is still a lovely setting!
...More to follow in Part II as we explore the Tule Tree and the Sunday Market!
Please visit the gallery for more photos of Monte Albán.