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Historical Centre of Oaxaca and Monte Albán
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-01-28 18:21:31 | Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico
Keywords: city, pyramids, Ruins, UNESCO
This UNESCO site includes three locations in and around the city of Oaxaca. The first one is the old historical centre, then there is the magnificent Monte Albán and the small village of Cuilapan where the Dominicans set up a large monastery (which I didn't visit). I walked a lot within the old Oaxaca and this morning I spent almost 3 hours exploring Monte Albán. The site is very spectacular and on site, I learned something impressive about the site itself... it's been recently named the best UNESCO World Heritage site in the world by a panel of experts.

First, the old historical centre of Oaxaca dates back to 1486 and was very well preserved. It's built on the location of the pre-Hispanic city of Huaxyacac, founded by the Aztecs (which also occupied Monte Albán) just a few decades before the arrival of the conquistadors. The are over 1 200 buildings inventoried and classified all over the large portion in between the two major highways that circle the city. There are of course many colonial buildings on which the bricks were covered with plaster and painted annually, but these are usually smaller buildings. The larger ones are usually simply made of very big rocks and were apparently never covered in plaster/cement. This gives the city two distinctive looks that are both very charming. Yes, the old colonial houses are very nice with their large variety of colours throughout the city, but the larger buildings (like schools and other public constructions) really show their age with their exposed rocks. I like both sides personally. All the streets of the old part are made out of flat and cobble stones.
Templo Santo Domingo and part of the historical centre of Oaxaca

The Monte Alban site is located on top of a 500 m mountain about 5 km away from the centre of Oaxaca, overlooking the entire Oaxaca valley. That site has been occupied in three phases by various civilizations (Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs) over a period of more than a thousand years. The local settlers were also greatly influenced by the three later largest civilizations of current Mexico country: Teotihuacan, Aztec and Maya.

This makes Monte Albán because it was the central point of unification of so many cultures and influences throughout the years, and each new occupant not only kept what was there before, but expanded it by adding their one contributions. Sometimes the vocation of the city was changed from a religious purpose to a fortification to protect the commerce routes. On at least one occasion, one civilization re-used the sacred sites left there to bury their own deaths.

View of the main portion of the site of Monte Albán

Another fact that is impressive about the site is that it was literally carved out of a mountain, where they cut out the top of the mountain to create various flat platforms on which they built the pyramids and other structures. The construction began around 300 BC and ended around year 800. At this point, the city was home of about 50 000 people!

For all those reasons the UNESCO placed these locations on the World Heritage List, in 1987 In my opinion, Monte Albán should have been a site on its own. They should have placed the village of Cuilapan and the historical centre of Oaxaca as another one, because they cover two very distinct eras and groups of civilizations. And being mixted up with the historical centre Oaxaca in my opinion diminishes the importance of Monte Albán.

Less than two weeks ago, a panel of experts unveiled their top selections of the UNESCO sites from all over the world. They examined each of the 980 sites on the World Heritage List and scored them considering no less than twenty-five factors including: level of protection of the site, level of authenticity, accessibility, information available on site and historical value. Monte Albán scores 79% and clinched the top rank! In second place was Awebury (in England, 78%) and Herculano (Italy, 76%) finished in 3rd place.

Old house in the Historical Centre of Oaxaca

Related posts:
What I've seen in Mexico
Southern Guatemala
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El Tajin


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