Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Mexico: Archaeological Site of Monte Albán & Cuilapan de Guerrero in Oaxaca

After visiting cities north of Mexico City, it was time to proceed south. Oaxaca was our next destination. We made a brief transit in Mexico City, taking time to visit UNAM, before boarding a late night bus to Oaxaca, for a trip that took about six hours.

We arrived quite early in the morning and proceeded straight to our hostel. Our plan for the day was to visit Monte Albán, a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán Municipality of Oaxaca. The Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We learned from our hostel that we could still catch the guided-day tour to Monte Albán and other nearby attractions (MX$300). Since we wanted a stress-free day, we decided to join.

Monte Albán, ten kilometers from downtown Oaxaca, was once a holy city with a population of more than 30,000 Zapotecs. Archaeological findings suggest that efforts to construct Monte Albán began in 500 BC. It reached its peak in 300 AD and was mostly abandoned by 800 AD.

Built on top of a mountain, the city offers spectacular views of Oaxaca Valley below. The Gran Plaza is the highlight of the visit to Monte Albán.

We were given ample time to explore the different areas of the complex before we proceeded to our next stop. The tour also included visits to an alebrijes artisans workshop in San Antonio Arrazola, the ex-convento in Cuilapan de Guerrero, a Oaxacan buffet lunch, and a black clay pottery workshop in San Bartolo Coyotepec.

Alebrijes are wooden figures, mostly animals, that are colorfully painted with designs created with small dots. The shop gives visitors on overview of the process from carving the wood to the painting and finishing. Of course, finished products are on sale in the shop.

Our next stope, the ex-convento in Cuilapan de Guerrero, is a grand structure that was built from 1559 but was never completed. It was supposed to serve as a base of the Dominicans for the conversion of native Oaxacans to Catholicism. The scale of the construction suggests that if it was completed, it might have been among the best and most beautiful monuments of Spanish America. Another claim to fame was that Mexican president and national hero Gen. Vicente Guerrero was executed there on February 14, 1831.

We were wondering what time we'd eat lunch as it was close to 3 p.m. by the time we made it to the restaurant. There were buffet and a la carte options which were not included in the tour cost. Since Oaxaca is known for food, we paid an additional MX$120 to enjoy the buffet. We were not disappointed.

Our last stop for the tour was a black clay pottery workshop in San Bartolo Coyotepec, another traditional craft in the Oaxaca area. We got to watch demonstrations and explore the shop.

More photos of Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

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