Monte Alban -- Archaeological Zones -- Central Valley

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Monte Alban was the ancient capital of the Zapotecs and one of the first cities in Mesoamerica. During it's epoch, it was one of the most populated. It was founded approximately 500 years BC and flourished until 750 AD. Located in the central valley of Oaxaca, Monte Alban exercised political, economic, and ideological control over the other communities and surrounding mountains. Its principal constructions include the Great Plaza, the Ball Court, System II, The Danzantes (Dancers), Building J, Central Building G.H., the Palace, the southern platform, System 7 Deer and Tomb Number 7 of the Great Plaza.

arc12.jpg - 15,58 K The Ball Court is located to the left of the entrance to the Great Plaza, and has the defining characteristics of ball courts in this region. This court is marked by two structures at the sides of the rectangular base, with slanting walls. A sculpture representing a grasshopper covers most of the western side. The platform located on the western side contains a stair case flanked by two alfardas that end in talud, with two stelae in the largest part; there are two small niches contained there.

System II is a structure consisting of two bodies with a staircase, flanked by two alfardas, ending in talud with two panels of double escapulario. In the largest area a small temple with a rectangular base and five columns in front and still others at the back without later walls. To the south of this area is a tunnel constructed with a vaulted roof that connects to the central building.

arc13.jpg - 21,06 K Los Danzantes, constructed in three sections, belongs to Epoch IIB. Its walls of talud are covered with polished lapidas with representations of human figures in strange positions, and with physical traits characteristic of Olmec sculpture.

Building "J" is separated from the other building, and is without doubt one of the most interesting, owing to its orientation and form. Resembling an arrow point, it has two bodies. Its staircase is oriented toward the northwest, its vertical walls are covered with inscribed lapidas, and they believe that its inside chamber functioned for astronomical observations but this hasn't been proved. This construction dates to Epoch II.

The Central Buildings G, H and I are located in the central part of the Great Plaza. The central building "H" is larger than the other two with a large staircase and two tombs. In the larger part we find a temple with two chambers and two columns at the entrance, very close to the lateral walls. They believe that this construction belongs to Epoch IIIA, and was used until the end of Epoch IIIB. In front of the principal staircase is a small templete with a cuadrangular base, where we find the famous mask of the Bat God, covered in jade.

arc14.jpg - 23,10 K The Palace is a two-part structure with a central staircase, with alfardos ending in the form of talud. In the upper part are 13 rooms grouped around a central patio. The doorway of this grouping is a dintel, recently arranged.

The Southern Platform is a very large structure that closed the plaza on this side. Of the two parts, in the larger part are two mounds, and from this spot one can observe all of the great ceremonial plaza. In the smaller part of this and in the corners various stelae are built-in with zoomorphic reliefs, as if some type of offering.

System 7 Deer: To reach this location we recommend walking over the largest part of the southern platform, toward the southern platform in a southeastern direction. It is located approximately 250 meters from the main plaza. There are four structures surrounding a plaza oriented toward the four cardinal points.

Tomb Number 7: On the 6 of January 1932, the Mexican archaeologist Dr. Alfonso Caso encountered a grave with a rich quantity of offerings. This is considered a great archaeological treasure, displayed in the Regional Museum of Oaxaca. This tomb is arranged on a rectangular base containing in front a bedroom and vaulted chamber. It is one of few tombs to have been found, and even though the building had deteriorated a bit, the treasures were intact.


The state of Oaxaca is located in the southeastern area of Mexico. The archeological zone Mote Alban is located 10 km. west of the state capital, Oaxaca City. Approximate travel time to the site is 15 minutes travelling on the Oaxaca-Monte Alban highway.

Additional Information

arc19.jpg - 41.57 KThe archaeological zone of Monte Alban, belonging to the Zapotec culture, is one of the most important in the area of Oaxaca. Its cultural development and monumental architecture has become representative of the region, and the Mesoamerican culture area. The prehispanic capital is located at the summit of a hill that rises in the southwest of Oaxaca City. It is located at 1948 meters above sea level (400 more than the level of the valley of Oaxaca).

The prehispanic name of Monte Alban has not been identified with precision. The most closely related descendants of the Zapotecs mention a hill that was known as Dhauya quch o Dauyacach, or the "Hill of the Sacred Stones". On the other hand, the Mixtecs know it as Yucucui, or "Green Hill". At the beginning of the 17th century, this spot came to be known as Monte Alban, owing to the fact that at that time, the lands belonged to a Spaniard with the surname of Monte Alban or Montalban.

Dr. Alfonso Caso, a Mexican archaeologist, led one of the first explorations and restorations of this archaeological zone. His project, completed in 18 stages, began in 1931 and finished in 1953. Based on studies of the architecture of the buildings, tombs, ceramics, and jewelry, he determined that the history of Monte Alban could be divided into distinct epochs based on social organization, population density, and exchange systems. In this manner he established 5 epochs designated as Monte Alban I, II, III, IV and V; beginning in the year 500 BC and lasting through 1521; each of these epochs is further subdivided. These epochs represent a total of 14 centuries of continuous occupation, plus six other centuries during which, for some reason, although the site had been abandoned, it remained important to the inhabitants of the Valley of Oaxaca. From this we recognize that the two cultures which made the prehispanic history of Oaxaca were the Zapotec and Mixtec.

arc16.jpg - 15,58 K The restored area contains the center of an ancient Zapotec city: Reaching 7 miles in total, this extends to more than 20 square km. The Main Plaza, the central area of the site, is surrounded by basamentos pyramids, terraces, plazas, patios and temples and palaces. Most of the stone architecture appears to have been constructed in the final epoch; however, in some buildings you can see that initial construction began in the first epoch, with later construction through the course of the centuries. The buildings are characterized by horizontal design, accentuated by staircases bordered by alfardos that finish with a wall, formed of double escapulario, a typical Zapotec version of the Teotihuacan talud-tablero theme. *The escapulario panel, a decorative element, is characterized by its silhouette in the form of an E, reclining and stretching, reinforced by its simple repetition, gives a unity to the diverse buildings of the site.*

The most characteristic buildings surround the plaza: the Ball Court, Temple II, Temple P, East Palace and Temple Q (eastern side); the Ball Court stands out for its integrity, and the East Palace for the rooms it contains. Temples G, H, I and J (at the center of the plaza); Building J, considered to be the first astronomical observatory in Mesoamerica, is very characteristic due to the declining of its central axis relative to the other buildings, and for its reliefs designated de las conquistas. The South Platform (in the south) stands out because it is monumental and because of its reliefs at the base, which represent numbers, writings, and people that define chronological scenes and war. System M, the Wall of the Danzantes, Building L, Building K, and System IV (western side). The Wall of the Danzantes contains a series of stelae that, according to reliefs, represent humans whose movement suggest the name. Because of their physical characteristics they are considered to represent Olmec culture, identified as the oldest in Mesoamerica. Northern Platform, Sunken Patio, Buildings A and B, Bertice Geodesico Building (Northern Side). The Northern Platform is known for its size and because of the congregation of various platforms. Tomb 104, located at the back of the North Platform, is known for its mural paintings, dinteles, jambas with reliefs and clay funeral offerings. Tomb 107, where Dr. Caso found the treasures of Monte Alban, is located on the northeastern part, isolated from the main plaza.

The structures around the Main Plaza are diverse, and have been identified as living areas, tombs, and entire communities. The site's museum is located at the entrance to Monte Alban, and there visitors can learn about the other sites to visit inside the archaeological zone.