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  • Day6

    Discovering the Zapotecs at Monte Alban

    February 28, 2018 in Mexico ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    Our next meeting with indigenous cultures was at Monte Alban, just outside and above Oaxaca City. It was built high above to city to give it as much protection as possible as Monte Alban was a royal palace and sacred site of the Zapotec people who inhabited the place from about 500 B.C to about 700 A.D. when their civilisation fell or moved on. It fell into ruin for 200 years or so until another people, the Mixtecs moved in around 950 A.D. and there they remained until the arrival of the Spanish in 1521. The Mixtecs added nothing to the structures but did reuse some of the tombs for their own burials and this is some of the treasure that has been found. Unlike other native cultures, the Mixtec civilisation was allowed to continue as they allied themselves with the Spanish to help defeat other indigenous cultures, particularly the Mexicas of Mexico Tenochtitlan.

    The Place is on a fantastic scale. Unlike Teotihuacán, it doesn't have pyramids rather large platforms for the elite to look out over the site. It was a place of ceremony, conquest, sacrifice and royal life. It contains the ruins of a royal palace, a large public court to hold the dignitaries and officials, and a building they believe to be an observatory due to its east/west positioning.

    In the far right corner is a section that is now called the Gallery of the Dancers and Swimmers. The archaeologists who originally found the stones and frieses thought the figures carved on them were dancing or swimming. However, if you take more than a passing glance at them, you'll see what is actually happening. These are conquered warriors who have been ritually castrated before being sacrificed or left to die. The dancers are the castrated warriors and the swimmers are the dying ones. I know I'd be hopping around if I'd been castrated. Poor souls.

    We also saw a Royal ball court where the forerunner to football was played. As I mentioned in a previous post, this was less of a game and more a ceremonial rite of passage to decide who had the honour of being offered to the gods. Played with a 4kg solid rubber ball covered in leather, it was hit with the elbows, hips and feet to play the game. The rules are not known and there are variations of the shape, size and function of the court. Some have rings and targets, some not.

    The site also has a very instructive museum made even more interesting by our guide, Anna. This shows the customs and histories of the Zapotec people. What was even more interesting is that both the Zapotec and Mixtec languages are still spoken today and not just by a minority.

    On our return, we were given a free afternoon and urged to go then Museum of Oaxacan Cultures housed in the former monastery next to the Basilica of Santo Domingo we visited yesterday. Being that it was a former monastery, it was a warren of small rooms or cells that documented the area's people, formation and growth from prehistory to the current day. It had a lot of information on the Zapotecs as well as artefacts. Unfortunately, there were no descriptions in English so I had to do my best with my rudimentary Spanish. Nevertheless, I was particularly taken with the representation of a rat god in one of the showcases. Once the exhibit moved on to the post Hispanic period, they got very Christ-y and my interest waned. I'd still recommend a visit as it is a haven of quiet and relative cool from the bustle of the city.

    It also has an impressive botanical gardens surrounding it containing a huge variety of cacti, local plants and agave. It was closed to the public today but you did get a great view from many of the openings and courts of the museum.

    We then finished our day with the most wonderful meal at a restaurant called Los Danzantes. I won't go into any detail here as I've posted it on Instagram and FB but I thought I'd just post the picture just in case.

    We head off from Oaxaca tomorrow to reach a town calle Chiapa Do Corzo in a completely different state. We've been told to expect a long journey so we're not going to make it a late one.
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