Mr E has already told me in no uncertain terms that we won’t be visiting every ‘old pile of stones’ in the Latin Americas but the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban is one of the largest archaeological sites in all of Mexico. So a day trip there from Oaxaca was a must!
Mr E as a Driving Instructor back home is as you would expect a very calm, patient and excellent driver. So the quick 20 minute drive up to Monte Alban through the sensible one way grid system of the central Oaxacan roads should have been a breeze – Wrong!!
Oaxacan drivers have no concept of right of way, are verging on having aggressive road behaviour, don’t want to slow down or stop and oh my lordy they love to beep their horns! However Mr E was a total pro even though I directed him incorrectly through the most back arse end roads up some major hills! (Jesse Ventura wasn’t keen on the steep roads but pushed through nicely)
So at 6400ft we arrived unscathed to the UNESCO World Heritage site nice and early, before any vendors at the entry steps could try to sell us hats, necklaces, masks, random tourist tat or sweeties. (It was an assault course with plenty of ‘No gracias’ to get through them on the way out..)
Being Brits we took a picnic lunch with us with the aim to chomp our ‘tinga de pollo tortas’ while looking out over the impressive massive ruins and although the entry guard told us it wasn’t allowed, being early I think he took pity on us and our grumbling tummies so scooted us through with our mini coolbag.
The site is truly impressive, how the city was built by hand is amazing! We were able to wander around the site easily, viewing the ball court, palaces and temples. We climbed The North Platform and The Grand Plaza which was the heart of the ceremonial centre, the 360 degree views looking out to Oaxaca and the valleys were worth the ‘huffing and puffing’ to get to the top!
Similar to Stonehenge in England there are monoliths and channels built into the temples that would have been used as a solar calendar and where the winter and summer solstice sunrises would light up the chambers.
Here’s the history bit! Occupation was between 500BC to 850AD with a population reaching 25,000 people at its peak. Reasons for the abandonment are still unknown. The site was the ancient Zapotec capital and although they built the urban centre it was the Mixtec race of people that arrived during the 14th century that re-used the tombs leaving ceremonial offerings including jewellery made of gold, silver, jade, amber and pearls. Other treasures included a human skull covered in turquoise, elaborate carved bones and crystal bowls. We had viewed the beautiful excavated pieces in the Santo Domingo Cultural Museum in Oaxaca the day before.
We sat for quite a while enjoying the views, sunshine and our tortas! Hope you enjoy and can gain perspective from the photos of this wonderful massive pile of rocks…