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Calendar >  Travels With TR – Mexico Adventure – Part 2 – Oaxaca – Monte Alban – Mitla – Tule

Travels With TR – Mexico Adventure – Part 2 – Oaxaca – Monte Alban – Mitla – Tule

By   /  February 12, 2015  /  No Comments


tom & carolThe sights and sounds of Mexico City can only be described as loud, over whelming at times, and very, very busy. Our decision was to travel to a place that would be slower in pace in all ways. We boarded a bus for a five hour ride to the colonial city of Oaxaca Juarez, in the state of Oaxaca, referred to as Oaxaca City.

Oaxaca is located in Southwestern Mexico, bordered by the states of Guerrero, Puebla, Veracruz, Chiapas and its southern border is the Pacific Ocean. Oaxaca is best known for its indigenous peoples and cultures. There are 16 officially recognized cultures that have survived in the rugged terrain of Oaxaca. Fifty percent of the people living in Oaxaca do not speak Spanish, but rather speak languages unique to the cultures that first developed in this area. The most populous indigenous groups in Oaxaca are the Zapotec and Mixtec ethnic groups that have survived in Mexico since tribes first existed in Mexico.

Oaxaca City is the largest city in the state of Oaxaca. It is a beautiful colonial city with era structures, many built with the native green stone of this region. The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tree lined streets have many former 19th century mansions hidden behind walls leading to magnificent courtyards. Many of these former mansions have been turned into small hotels. Throughout the city there are many parks (Zocalo’s), the largest being the Plaza de la Constitucion. A large kiosk is in the center of this park, where families spend time enjoying the beauty of the park and on weekends entertainers perform. Numerous churches are scattered throughout the city. Temple de Santo Domingo is known for its beautiful baroque façade. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption was built in 1702 and is one of the oldest still standing in the city. There is no shortage of museums in the city and the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures has many artifacts from the surrounding archaeological sites. Another classic building is the Teatro Macedonics Alcala that serves as both a performance theater and a romantic art gallery. There are several outdoor markets in Oaxaca, the largest is Mercado Benito Juarez. On the weekends families, representing many different ethnic tribes, arrive in town to sell their goods. One of the popular alcoholic beverages on sale is a well-known strong Mexican drink, Mezcal. Mezcal is sold with many different animals preserved in it such as snakes, scorpions, spiders and of course worms.  Also on sale is a variety of chocolates. Mexican chocolate is used for many Mexican dishes, especially popular with the variety of moles. Oaxaca is considered Mexico’s culinary capital and restaurants abound serving many different regional dishes.  Another popular drink served is chocolate, served in a bowl with no handles, flavored with almond, cinnamon and sugar. Staying in one of the classic hotels is a good way to begin an exploration of the ancient ruins in this part of Mexico.

From Oaxaca City we took a short taxi ride up a low mountain range above the Valley of Oaxaca to the site of an ancient Zapotec ruin called Monte Alban. The original name of this site is not known. This site appeared between 500 BC – 750 AD and became the pre-eminent Zapotec socio-political and economic center.  At its height, over 17,500 people would live in and around this religious area. The Monte Alban site is small in comparison to sites like Teohicuacan, but still has significant buildings. The Main Plaza has a series of small platform mounds surrounding the plaza, each with temples or alters on the platforms. There are winding hallways that run through the large temple in the center of the plaza. The actual use of these winding hallways is unknown. One unusual feature is the carving of naked men on the stones, in various contorted and twisted positions, that can be found on many of the temple walls at the site. Most archaeologists interpret these carvings as showing sacrificial victims, sacrificed on the platforms. There are also 2 small ball courts at the site, the only two ball courts in Mexico outside of those found in the Mayan sites in the Yucatan. The rules to the game played at the ball courts are lost in time, except for some carvings and paintings found on Mayan ruins. One of the most accepted beliefs on the outcome of the game is that the winners were sacrificed. From the edges of the Monte Alban site, a beautiful view of the valley and Oaxaca City can be seen.

On the following day we took a bus out of Oaxaca City a short distance, to the Mixtec site of Mitla. This site is the 2nd most important archaeological site in the state of Oaxaca. This small, but amazing site, is known for the elaborate, intricate geometric designs carved on the tombs, panels, friezes and walls of the buildings and temples. No other site in Mexico has designs like these. Every building at the site has different designs carved on them. The name Mitla came from a Nahuati word, Mictlan, which means place of the dead or underworld. It is thought the Mitla site was used by the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples as a religious site signifying the gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. This site was built and used from 100 – 850 AD. There are 5 main groups of buildings at the site, each rectangular buildings with long narrow rooms. There are tombs under some of the buildings where high priests were buried. The buildings have been given names such as Church Group North, Columns Group, Main Building – Palace, and the Grand Hall of Columns. One of the tombs has a thick column at the entrance called the Column of Life. Legend has it that a person wraps their arms around the column, while another person takes their hand and counts off the remaining hand space between a person’s fingertips.  The number of hands times 5 indicates the number of years a person has left to live. Right next to the Mitla site is the Spanish Catholic Church of San Pedro, built in the 16th century and built on one of the ancient Mixtec platforms.

Not far from Mitla, 6 miles from the city of Oaxaca, is the city of Santa Maria del Tule and the incredible Tule Tree. This ancient Montezuma cypress is estimated to be 1,400-1,600 years old. The tree is located on a sacred site and is on the UNESCO tentative World Heritage Site list. This tree is 116 feet tall, but this is not what makes this tree so amazing.  It is the widest, stoutest trunked tree in the world. The trunk has a circumference of 137.8 feet and a diameter of 30.8 feet. It is stouter that the Giant Sequoias of the United States. In 1990, it was reported that the tree was dying, but as of today the tree still stands. When there, seeing the tree, it is hard to imagine that this huge tree is actually real.

Our adventure in Mexico continued to the city of Puerto Escondido and Acapulco, but the sites we saw before this far surpassed these two stops.  There are many more sites in Mexico, other than the ones we were able to see. In a future article, I will take you to the Yucatan and several of the ancient Mayan sites I have been able to visit in the country of Mexico.robersonad



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  • Published: 9 years ago on February 12, 2015
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  • Last Modified: February 12, 2015 @ 9:03 pm
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