Monte Alban



Is located 8 kilometers from the City of Oaxaca, it was the capital city of the Zapotecs and one of the first cities in Mesoamerica.

It was founded in 500 BC. remaining as the capital of the Zapotecs-Mixtecs until 800 AC.
It is 40,000 sq, mt it is in a natural elevation, and it was an ideal place to build different buildings on the top.

The original name given by the Zapotecs was Oselotepek, meaning the Jaguar Mountain. According to the Spanish chronicles of the conquest, the Spanish conquerors gave it the name of Monte Alban because of the many white trees on the hill top.

The ceremonial center of Monte Alban is surrounded by a mountainous chain that converge in the central valley of Oaxaca. That is why it is an earthquake zone.

The crest of the hill was cut and leveled to build the different buildings that conform the architectural ensemble.

The buildings were built, copying the different formations of the surrounding hills. Terraces were formed, and it is where the ordinary people made their households, and where they sowed.

The political, military, and religious elite lived in the interior of the ceremonial buildings.
The Valley of Oaxaca has a warm climate and receives moderate rains. However, the presence of the Atoyac River guaranteed water supply from a fountain, indispensable for the flourishment of agriculture, their main economic activity.

The valleys around Montalban favored the cultivation of medicinal plants, fruits, and seeds from wild plants, edible insects, (grasshoppers, maguey worms, and wasps, among others) wild game, such as rabbit, armadillo, deer, and cornish hen.


The history of Montalban begins in the V Century BC. Most of the cities, such as Dianzu and Mogote, which had very big public buildings, became second in importance and started having conflicting relationships with Montalban.

Other towns opted to create a system of alliances with the elite of Montalban, among them Yagul and Tomaltepec. All these secondary towns experienced a hostile atmosphere due to the military expansionism of Montalban.

During the Pre-classic and Classic Superior, they received an important Olmec influence. During this period, they also created a writing system and they registered all the important events, but this led them to the need for a calendar. They also started the flattening of the surface of one of the platforms, and the defensive walls on the north and west side of the hill. Poverty was scarce, and they all had a good livelihood.


During the peak of the civilization, there were almost 35,000 inhabitants.

As many of the great Mesoamerican metropolis, Montalban was multiethnic and their increasing power helped them to have important commerce trade with the Gulf of Mexico’s coast and Teotihuacan was the most important city in the Valley of Mexico established after the destruction of Cuicuilco caused by the
explosion of the Xitle volcano.

In Teotihuacan, traces of a Zapotec neighborhood have been found, and there is proof that the Teotihuacan writing was influenced by the Zapotecs.

In the meantime, Montalban continued its expansion, and stelae give proof. The pottery production acquired very special characteristics that distinguished it from the pottery of the main cities of Mesoamerica.

Commerce between Montalban and Teotihuacan was modified during the years of 350-500 a.c. According to some studies the breaking of the bond between Teotihuacan and Montalban was the growing relationship between Montalban and Xochicalco one of the main cities of the classic period of the center of Mesoamerica.

The breakdown of the relationship between the two cities allowed the resurgence of the Oaxacan ceramics, no longer with the Teotihuacan influence.


By the end of the VII century, construction came to a halt in Montalban. The ceremonial buildings were not refurbished, a true indicator of the abandonment of the city.

The elite fled the city, and the population was down to a few people because they had gone to other cities in the valley. The Mixtecos mountain villagers started using the site for their  religious rituals and there is evidence of the Mixtecos in sites such a Zaachila and Mitla.

The treasure of tomb no. 7 (discovered by the archaeologist Alfonso Caso in 1931) belongs to the Mixtecos, it is a pre- Columbian burial, where a beautiful jade mask and many gold pieces were found.

Caso also discovered more than 170 tombs with mural paintings very well preserved.


This is the main plaza’s general view. It has a rectangular form and the dimensions are 200 mts. wide and 300 mts. long, it is slightly oriented to the northeast. This was the heart of the
urbanistic center of Montalban


The palace in the central plaza was built (circa) 350-800 A.C. probably the elite class, and priests lived there.


The astronomic observatories, gave the prehispanic society the necessary knowledge to calculate the agricultural cycles, know the change of seasons, when the rainy season would start, and harvest time, know future astronomic events, and know how to orient constructions, streets, avenues, and plazas according to the cardinal points. There were two astronomic observatories.


Like all the ceremonial Pre-Hispanic centers, Montalban also has a Several ball games one of them located at the north of the eastern platform, this one is known as the big ball game, originally covered with stucco, and it is approximately 25 meters long.

The rules of the game were to kit the ball with the hips, elbows, and knees, the players would pass the ball from one side to the other. The slanted walls were covered with a lime mix, that would
create a surface that helped the ball to bounce back into the field. Montalban has five ball games.


The complex was built during the first phase when Montalban started expanding their dominion into the valleys between the years 300-800 ac. The most important characteristic of this complex is the stelae representing important characters, with calendar, and anthroponym glyphs.

They are called dancers because they are in dynamic positions nude, mainly obese, with wide noses and thick lips.

Some interpretations are that they represent governors and leaders of the neighboring towns captured and sacrificed, there is a recurrent symbolism that depicts that the characters were castrated and that the blood was offered to the deities of fertility.


It is approximately 5,80 meters high, the highest of Montalban, and also the oldest used as an astronomic instrument, similar to those found in other civilizations, such as the obelisks in the  Egyptian culture. They could verify the hour of the day when the sun was at its summit with the position of the shadow.

The shadow was at its maximum growth towards the North during the Winter solstice, and it would decrease towards the South during the Summer solstice. It would establish a unity of measure of time and space for their architecture and their yearly calendar.


Oaxaca is famous for its wonderful and colorful textiles, and the