Monte Alban

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Monte Alban - The Sacred Mountain

It is believed that Monte Alban was actually named in the 16th century after the Spanish landowner's surname "Montalvan". The previous names for the city were the Mixtec name "Sahandevul" which means "At the Foot of the Sky", and another variation which is derived from the older Zapotecan language, "Danibaan" or Sacred Mountain".

Monte Alban

Who built Monte Alban?

What is known about the history of the region is that 4000 years ago, a village-dwelling people of unknown origin (believed by many to have been Olmec colonies) moved into the Oaxaca valleys. Then, around 500 BC (1500 years later) a new people (the Zapotecans) moved into the region. One of these groups then began the monumental task of leveling the top of a 1,600 meter high mountain that intersects and divides three valley, and built Monte Alban with a maze of subterranean passage ways, rooms, drainage and water storage systems.

It is difficult to believe that any group other than the long established governing power which controlled the population and resources of the valleys below would be able to complete the task of building Monte Alban, or that they would allow a new group of people to move right into the middle of their territory and take up a dominant military position on the strategic high ground controlling three valleys.

Archaeologists may still argue over who founded Monte Alban (in spite of the oldest reliefs which are clearly Olmec), but what they do agree on is that in the following centuries, the Zapotecans (the new people to move into the area) were responsible for the distinct architectural style and rise to power of Monte Alban (which coincides with the exact time period that the powerful, war-like Olmec civilization went into full-scale decline).

Over the years Monte Alban is known to have had contact with other cities hundreds of kilometers away: masks and sculptures reflect contact with the Maya, and architectural ideas were borrowed from Teotihuacan around 300 AD.

The city enjoyed two golden eras (around 100 BC to 100 AD and 600 to 800 AD) at which time Monte Alban's population had terraced the surrounding hillsides to support a population of close to 35,000 people spread over a 65 hectare area.

It also had two eras of decline. The first was around 200 AD, and the second in 800 AD lead to a demise that eventually left Monte Alban uninhabited. The reasons for this are unknown, but we know that by the beginning of the 13th century, a people who had long coexisted with the Zapotecans, called the Mixtec, began to expand their territory and that they reoccupied Monte Alban.

The Mixtec added little to the existing architecture at Monte Alban, but they did leave many tombs, including Tomb 7, with its famous treasure.

Very little of the original structures at Monte Alban remain. Most of the original buildings either had newer construction layered on top of the older structures, or were dismantled so that their stones could be reused for other buildings.

The Danzantes (The Dancers):

The oldest known structure at Monte Alban is known as The Gallery of the Dancers. The glyphs depict naked warriors, ejaculation, childbirth, dwarfism, captives, the sick, or the dead with contorted body positions (like dancers). These pictures that are the oldest artifacts found here date back to the origins of the city itself. The distinct artistic style, and the features of the people with round mongoloid facial features and beards is pure Olmec. The meanings of these fertility symbols, people, positions, or history is subject to interpretation.

The Danzantes

How to Get to Monte Alban

To get to Monte Alban by bus, go to the Hotel Meson del Angel on Mina 518 between Diaz Ordaz and Mier Y Teran. Tickets to Monte Alban are sold in the lobby and the busses will arrive behind the Hotel.
Autobuses Turisticos makes seven runs daily, at 8:30, 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, and 3:30 pm.

The round-trip fare is currently $35 Pesos. The ride takes half an hour, and your scheduled return time is 2 hours after arrival. It's possible to take a later return for an additional $10 Pesos (subject to availability); inform the driver of your intent. During high season there are usually additional buses.

If you're driving from Oaxaca, take Calle Trujano out of town. It becomes the road to Monte Alban, about 10km (6miles) away.

The site is open daily from 8am to 6pm. Admission is $37 Pesos (Sunday free for Mexican Nationals only). Video camera permits cost $35 Pesos, and licensed guides charge $200 Pesos for groups of up to 4 people.

As you enter the site, you'll see a building on your right which contains a small museum, a gift shop, and a restaurant/bar with a great view of the Oaxaca Valley below.

The Ruins of Monte Alban

  • Monte Alban Period 1 (650 BC to 200 BC) is known to have had stone buildings, permanent temples, priests, and an organized religion.
  • Monte Alban Period 2 (200 BC to 1 AD) is characterized by an influx of a group of people from Chiapas or Guatemala who were smaller in numbers, but introduced changes as they merged with the resident population.
  • Between Monte Alban Period 2 (200 BC to 1 AD) and 3A (100 AD to 400 AD) there is evidence of influence from and trade with Teotihuacan to the North.
  • Between Monte Alban Period 3A (100 AD to 400 AD) and 3B (400 AD To 700 AD) the vast majority of the city was reconstructed.
  • Monte Alban Period 4 (800 AD To Spaniards) is the beginning of the decline of Monte Alban as a major power base in the area.
  • Monte Alban Period 5 reflects the influence of the Mixtec occupation.
Monte Alban Map

1.South Platform
2.Building "M"
3.The Danzantes
4.Building IV
5.North Platform
6.Ball Court
7.Building II
8.The Palace
9. Building "J"
10.Tomb 107
11.Tomb 104
12.Stela
13.Sunken Patio
14.Building 1
15.The VG Complex
16.Jewelled Building
A. Building "A"
B. Building "B"
G. Building "G"
H. Building "H"
I. Building "I"
P. Building "P"
Q. Building "Q"
X.Building "X"

There are some guide books out there which tell you that the ruins are within walking distance of Oaxaca . . . Don't believe everything you read! It was probably written by someone in Ohio thinking that Monte Alban to Oaxaca is not that far. Oaxaca is a big city, and once you reach the city limits the 10km is all up-hill. The bus takes a half hour to get there and it really does take a full 2 hours to explore the ruins, so unless you're training for the Special Forces you'll have nothing left by the time you reach the ruins.

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Spanish version of this page: Monte Alban
Monte Alban

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