Showing posts with label Monte Alban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monte Alban. Show all posts

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Jade City

English: Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico: Danzante...
Monte Alban, Oaxaca
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting there was a difficult and frustrating day, mainly because I caught the wrong plane from Merida and ended up flying halfway around Mexico, via Mexico City, but when I arrived in Oaxaca, the jade city in the heart of the Southern Sierra mountains, it was all well worth the effort.

My hotel was the unique Cameo Real, originally a sixteenth-century convent. Today it is the ultimate in old Spanish colonial splendor, a cool maze of flag-stoned passageways and cloistered patios that are lush with tumbling cascades of jasmine and bougainvillea. Situated in the center of the city in the heart of its mountain-ringed valley, the hotel was only a two-minute walk from the Zocalo, the main plaza with its massive cathedral, and even less from the magnificent baroque church of Santo Domingo, which was visible across the low rooftops from my bedroom window.

Oaxaca is a small but beautiful city of shaded plazas, splendid block solid churches with double bell towers, and long streets that run straight with uninterrupted views to the far mountains. Santo Domingo had the most lavish and awe-inspiring interior of any church that I have ever seen, a palatial splendor of gold and gold leaf against cream, decorating huge columns and Moorish arches, with hosts of angels, saints, and cherubs, smiling down from every possible niche. The altar was a golden wonder under a vast dome.

Equally impressive in its own way was the Church of La Soledad, situated on a high square on a hill that seemed to look straight out over the rooftops to the mountains beyond. It was Sunday morning when I toured the churches. The services were packed and seemed continuous, one congregation still filing out as the next made their way in. Mexicans are a devout people, and it seems that everyone goes to mass.

The lush Oaxaca valley has been settled since before 600 BC and has seen the influence of several of the ancient Indian cultures, the Zapotecs and later the Miztec civilizations. There was even an Aztec military outpost here when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the sixteenth century.

Today it is enjoying something of a tourist renaissance, being an excellent short-stay add-on in contrast to the ever popular beach resorts of Cozumel and Cancun on the Caribbean coast. From Oaxaca, you can still visit vibrant, traditional Indian markets, rich with colored textiles and handicrafts, in addition to the colorful profusion of local fruits, flowers, and vegetables.

In the little shops between the cafes flanking its streets and plazas, you can buy heavy silver jewelry in exotic Zatopec or Aztec designs, inset with precious and semi-precious stones, including the brilliant green jade that gives the city its name.

Monte Alban (Oaxaca Mexico), temple, August 2006
Monte Alban (Oaxaca Mexico), temple, August 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the best views of the city climb the Escaleras del Fortin, the long series of shaded, upward sloping terraces that ascend the 300-foot climb to the Auditorio Guelaguetza. Every July in this vast auditorium overlooking the city the world famous Guelaguetza festival of folk-dancing is held, an annual competition featuring dancing groups from every region of the state of Oaxaca. It is a musical spectacle not to be missed if you are here at the right time.

From above the auditorium, there are bird's eye views of the entire valley, basking in the hot sunshine and framed in wreaths of bougainvillea and palm fronds. You can pick out the splendid domes and bell towers of all the major churches, and from the heights, the huge black monument to Benito Juarez, the reforming President of the 1870s looks out over what was his native city.

Oaxaca is also within easy reach of the ancient ruins of the once great cities of Mitla and Monte Alban. The latter is only six miles outside the city, a short drive up into the mountains, but once there you are back in the remote mists of another time. Monte Alban is a stupendous construction, a complex of vast stone pyramids and temple platforms built on top of a twelve thousand foot high plateau where a hill-top has been sliced off a mountain.

Monte Alban is believed to have been founded sometime in the sixth or seventh centuries before Christ and went through at least five different phases of occupation and development before it was finally abandoned. The site comprises a huge plaza with temple platforms running down the center and along both the eastern and western sides. There is a great northern complex of ascending temple platforms and an even larger pyramid platform to the south. It is all hot-baked brown and dusty under a scorching blue sky, with tremendous hazy valley views on all sides.

Monte Alban is a truly exhilarating experience, but it would also be a mistake not to see Mitla, some fifty miles further south along the Oaxaca valley. Lacking the sheer size and brute power of Monte Alban, Mitla, at first sight, seems a much poorer set of remains. But there is much elaborate and delicate frieze stonework here that is worth seeing. If Monte Alban was the work of gigantic visionary architects, then Mitla was carved by artists of much greater sensitivity.

However, you spend your days, the evenings in Oaxaca are for strolling or sitting by the Zocalo. Here you can watch the evening flag lowering ceremony, listening to the music from the pavement cafes, or from the bandstand under the great eucalyptus trees. Enjoying a beer, a tequila or a coffee or just browsing in those little jewelry treasure shops are more pleasurable experiences.

Half of Oaxaca will be here, doing what Mexicans do best, just enjoying the warm summer evening. Join them and relax, soak up the atmosphere. After all, you are on holiday.

    By Robert Leader
    Robert Leader is the author of more than sixty published novels. His website at is a showcase for a lifetime of traveling and writing. There you will find a full autobiography and details of all his books, which include crime novels, thrillers, horror and fantasy fiction. It also highlights the six books of EXTINCTION'S EDGE, which tell the story of Vietnam from the fall of Dienbienphu and the end of the French occupation of Indo-China to the Great Tet Offensive which led to the end of the American War. These six books form the ultimate novel of Vietnam. There are free read extracts and the stories behind the stories which explain how the books were inspired and came to be written.
    Pictures are available to illustrate all of Robert's ezine articles. Please contact and request through the website.

    Article Source: EzineArticles