Monte Albán is an important archeological site which knew its apogee at the time of the period Zapotèque between 200 and 600 after J-C. but which would have been rested by the people Olmèque. It is located at 10 km of the town of Oaxaca (State d' Oaxaca) to the Mexico, having for coordinates
The use of the word “Goes up”, meaning mount or mountain in Castillan, is explained by the fact why this city is built on a surface artificially flush at the top of a mountain overhanging of 400 meters the level of the valley (actually to 1941 m of Altitude).
Historical context of the site
Monte Albán was the most important city of the culture Zapotèque. The principal site is distributed to the top of three called mountainous solid masses Monte Albán, El Gallo and Bonete (this last is also called Atzompa). The archeologists distinguish three periods in the evolution from the site.
Period I (500 - 200 Before J-C.) The human traces oldest which were recorded in this zone go back to 500 before J-C. For this period the occupation is limited to certain places of the mountain presenting of the favorable aspects (fertile grounds, sources, zones of gatherings and hunting…).
The first houses of these people were built out of perishable materials easy to get (branches, straw, trunks…) but quickly they started to use the stone, especially for the foundations of the houses. Then the first stone tombs made and integrated into the dwellings appeared.
These evolutions allowed an increase in population. The individuals had to meet to conclude the enormous work which represents the installation of the top of the mountain and the construction of constructions. There existed certainly already a social division of the population, some specializing in the artisanal activities. The execution of these public works required a serious organization of work of the group. Leaders appeared little by little with the head to conclude work. In addition, the need for materials, food and supplies allowed certainly the installation of a rather advanced system of exchanges and production.
At that time were engraved a great number of stones known as the “ danzantes ”, representing naked men, can be sacrificed dead prisoners, to undoubtedly show the military capacity which had openly the city of Assembles Albán. Certain experts think that these engraved stones represent handicapped people (Autisme, Trisomie…) because they would have been regarded as magic beings or Chaman. Associated with these engravings one finds Glyphe S and dates, which shows the use of the calendar and the writing by these people dice this time and the will to record certain events.
The analysis of the artefacts and engravings of this period makes it possible to show a strong influence of the culture Olmèque. Moreover the extent even of work undertaken to level the top of this mountain evokes a company linked by a desire to build, with the image of the olmèque people.
Period II (100 Before J-C. - 200 After J-C.) During this period the development of Assembles Albán accelerates. New structures are built and of old are reorganized. The most representative building is the monument J . Various engravings of the “danzantes” are re-used and integrated in new buildings. The style of the ceramics of time I continues but certain objects start to present marked characters, like the funeral urns . The tombs of period II follow the design of the former time, but incorporates in it new elements like the niches .
Period III (200 - 600 After J-C.) The city reaches its urban and demographic development maximum for this period. It is thought that there were meadows of 40.000 inhabitants on a surface of 20 km ². The principal buildings developed in isolated cores and their essential function was the course of public or private religious ceremonies. The sides of the mountains were arranged of a big number of Terrasse S where one finds stone-built houses and burials common.
During this stage, Monte Albán was the urban center most important of the Vallées of Oaxaca and was the major axis of the activity of the area with a rather vast radiation. The heart of the city is represented by an immense space called Gran Plaza , esplanade being 300 m long and 150 m broad and surrounded by various structures where imposing buildings were, like those of the platforms North and South. In the medium one observes a group of North-South aligned constructions.
The enormous foundations were high temples, staged platforms were built, of the residential palates, the elegant stone tombs, the system for control and the Water conveyance and of the structure for the Jeu of ball and can be buildings intended for the astronomical observations.
But little by little zapotèque civilization loses its power. So much so that the city of Albán Goes up is abandoned about the middle of VIIe century after J-C. for still discussed reasons (exhaustion of the arable lands, excessive deforestation, invasions…).
Period Mixtèque About the 12th century, by a curious reversal of the history, the Mixtèques will seize the abandoned city Assembles Albán, from which came part of their ancestors, to make it revive and there celebrate new worships. They will remain there until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors at the 16th century.
History of the site
According to the Mexican archeologist Alfonso Caso, during XVIe century the grounds could belong to a Spanish soldier of Montalbán family name and thus was indicated this site. Others think that this name was allotted because of the similarity with the Monte Albano of Rome. Popular beliefs affirm that the origin of the name would come from the tree Casahuate (Ipomée out of tree - Ipomoea arborescens) present on the mountainsides and who, during the dry period, cover white flowers, result from this the name from Albar Mount (white) derived in Albán Mount. The name Zapotèque is Danipaguache, which means “mountain crowned” and in Mixtèque Yucucuy “the green Mount”.
One finds very few data and precise descriptions of the site during the Spanish Conquête and the three centuries which preceded its redécouverte by the archeologists.
This redécouverte began in 1806, with Guillermo Dupaix which made observations and Fouille S of the site, it discovered in particular some of famous “the danzantes” in the building L. In 1857 and 1882 the French explorer and photographer Désiré Charnay visited Monte Albán and wrote a description of the site. A.F. Bandelier also visited it and published new descriptions in 1881. In 1883 J.B. Carriedo, Murguía, Galindo and H. Bancroft made reports and plans of the site. One of the visitors who contributed more to famous of the site was William Holmes which, in its work entitled “Archeological studies among ancient cities Mexico City off”, published a plan and a description of each structure of Gran Plaza. Saville in 1899 showed the importance of Assembles Alban and its bond with Zapotèques.
The first archaeological excavation officially supported by the Mexican government took place in 1902 under the direction of Leopoldo Batres. They discovered new “danzantes” and reflect up to date the platforms North and South.
Eighteen years of important excavations began in 1931 under the responsibility of the Mexican archeologist Alfonso Caso surrounded by Jorge Costa, Martin Bazán, Eulalia Guzmán, Ignacio Bernal, Juan Valenzuela and María Lombardo. This work was very prolific and used for the first time the techniques of Fouille S scientists. 172 tombs were updated, as well as Gran Plaza, the buildings has and B, and the Hundido Patio. Despite everything these efforts and the current continuation of the excavations, one considers that the major part of the site was not excavated yet.
The contributions of several experts approached various topics like the study of the sequences of ceramics, constructions, the architectural style, the funerary context, the epigraphy, the sculptures and others. One can announce work of Ignacio Marquina, John Paddock, Marcus Winter, Joyce Marcus, Gordon Wittaker, García Moll and Patterson, Javier Urcid, Bernd Fahmel, Paul Gendrop, Horst Hartung and Mary Elizabeth Smith.
Monte Albán was registered on the list of the World heritage of UNESCO on December 11th, 1987. December 7th, 1993, by order in Council, the Mexican government declared it zone of archaeological monuments protected by creating a park from 2.078 ha.
Monte Albán comprises much pyramids with degrees, temples, tombs of dignitaries as well as a ground of Jeu of ball. One can also see there Stèle S carved as well as large Bas-relief S in certain buildings. The most remarkable buildings are the Southern platform and the Complex of the Northern Platform.
The site is built on the top of the mountain, around a place, Gran Plaza, measuring 300 m by 200 Mr. Celle-ci is surrounded of the ruins of the pyramids to degrees and the not yet restored Tumulus. Three pyramids occupy the center of the place (Buildings I, H and G), accompanied by the mysterious monument J.
Northern Platform It is the largest structure of Assembles Albán, an enormous made rectangular ground and stone construction. Its imposing size could be built thanks to powerful walls retaining superimposed which can reach several meters height. At the top of the platform whole of buildings rose, as shows it the bases which were crowned residential temples and palates. Spaces were dedicated to the worships like the Patio Hundido (Court dug), full court into uneven of the platform.
Behind the Hundido Patio one can see Monuments I, E, D and the monument decorated (Edificio Enjoyado) as well as the monument with the top Géodésique of the site (Edificio de Vértice Geodésico).
Near the Northern platform one finds Tombs 56,103 and 104, the palate of Ocote and monticules X and the North-East.
The Platform is connected to Gran Plaza by gradines monumental broadsides of slopes.
Play of Ball It is called “Big game of Ball” with Monte Albán and one reaches it by the North-eastern side of Gran Plaza. It is accompanied by the Temple to the Idoles (Adoratorio), of the monument P, the Palate and the monticule Q. The structure has an original architectural diagram in the shape of I with the traditional side tilted plans. The ground entirely measures 40 m length and 7 by 22 m on the level of the ends called “cabezales”. A narrow staircase is located Northern side to reach the ground and in the angles of the walls there are niches. The walls were covered with painted frescos.
The Jeu of ball was a crowned ritual still badly known but whose exit often took the form of human Sacrifices. Nevertheless, on the site of Assembles Albán, was not still found any trace of this type of ritual
There exists another monument dedicated to the Jeu of ball and called Little game of ball, located near Tomb 105.
Building of Danzantes It is one of the oldest buildings of the site. It belongs to period I. Its structure is rectangular with walls built in the shape of slope. It has central gradines which make it possible to reach the upper part oú there are several enclosures. Most interesting of this building are the called carved stones “Danzantes” (literally “the procession of the dancers”), which one can observe on the side and the back of the building. Engravings represent naked characters in positions of distorsion. The assumption according to which it acted dancers is now rejected by the archeologists but no other proposal achieves the scientific unanimity. They could be dead or tortured prisoners, or people reached of physical handicaps.
the building J It is more the good example of construction of time II. The establishment breaks the order establishes by the provision of the other buildings of Gran Plaza. It has a pentagonal plan in the shape of arrowheads of which each one forms an angle of 45 degrees with other constructions.
It caused many assumptions because of its form and its unusual orientation. Alfonso Caso evoked the fact that it could be used as astronomical Observatoire. Thereafter of many researchers identified various astronomical alignments but many other assumptions are considered by the archeologists. In particular some think that it is about a memorial because the walls are decorated with engraved stones representing of the people conquered by the city of Assembles Albán.
Tomb 104 The house and it tomb were built during the time going from 500 to 700 after J-C. It is one of the most elegant residences of the city. The parts are gathered around a square court and fall it is under the court of the west coast. Its frontage is decorated with a panel in double scapular similar to those which one can observe on the monuments of Gran Plaza. In the medium and above the entry a funeral Urn is terra cotta representing the God of the corn: Pitao Cozobi. The interior of the tomb is decorated with murals Polychrome, and on the side walls are represented richly decorated characters, perhaps of the priests, with bags of Copal in the hands.
Tomb 7 This tomb was built about year 1 after J-C. and belongs to the zapotèque period of occupation. The building has a rectangular plan with a principal room preceded by a hall, it has stone walls with a ceiling of tilted flagstones. After the abandonment of the house it tomb was reopened (between 1300 and 1500 after J-C.) by the Mixtèques to bury new important characters, while leaving the bones and the funeral objects of the lords Zapotèques who occupied it fall. In 1932 the Mexican archeologist Alfonso Caso discovered fall to it n°7, one of rare not to be plundered and which contained a marvellous treasure made up of more than 400 funeral artefacts gold, silver, turquoise, Albâtre, coral, Ivoire, pearl, mother-of-pearl, Obsidienne and Ambre.
Practical informations on the siteIt is very easy to go on the site which is only to 10 km of the town of Oaxaca. Indication is correct and the tarred road is in good state. The site is open 365 days per annum of 8:00 to 18:00. The ticket of entry costs 45 pesos. The entry is free for the children of less than 13 years and Sunday and bank holidays. Two hours at least are necessary for the visit of this site. Guides propose their services in many foreign languages.
On the site one can also visit a small museum which presents certain artefacts and which has a room of temporary exhibitions.
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