Monte Alban - Ancient Urban Center with Lessons for Today

We rode a small bus from Oaxaca up a winding road to a high hill above the city to the site of Monte Alban, the sacred place of the Zapotecs.

Approaching the site we looked back to admire the view over the valley and the modern city of Oaxaca, just as the residents of Monte Alban had in earlier times.

Reaching the top of the path, we stopped to absorb our first view of the site. At once, we felt the presence of ancient gods and their priests and kings as we entered the Gran Plaza surrounded by pyramidal platforms topped by templos on the north, east and south sides and the palace on the west side.

We climbed the massive stairways of the Platforma Norte for great views of the site and the surrounding valleys.

The Ball Court

Strolling the length of the Gran Plaza, we reached the Platforma Sud and climbed the steep stairs (with the help of very much appreciated hand rails) for more views of the site.

We took special note of the building called the Observatory, noting its unusual multi-sided shape (below left). It's the only building on Monte Alban that is oriented at angles inconsistent with the rest of the site, suggesting its special function for celestial observations. We were also pleased to see many groups of school children visiting (below right).

Returning to the Site Museo, we learned that Monte Alban was the first urban complex in Mesoamerica and that the region had a population nearly as large as modern Oaxaca. The temples and palace were begun around 500 BC and development continued until its collapse around 850 AD for reasons unknown. Exploring the Museo, we viewed the carved stone stellae that had once stood on the site. They had been brought inside to protect them from weathering and to be properly lighted so we could more clearly see the figures carved on them.

Various ceramic and stone objects were also on display, enhancing our appreciation of the Zapotec as artists.

Late in the day, we returned to Oaxaca to ponder the fall of this once great city state and thoughts of the tenuous nature of human power lingered in our heads as we watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama the next day. As we watched our new President and Vice President take their oaths of office we felt a thrill of happiness that this man of vision and courage would lead the USA at this time of multiple global crises.

Yet the memories of our visit to Monte Alban stayed in our minds as well - a small cautionary note on this wonderful day!

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