AAA Editor Notes
Monte Albán Ruins are about 10 km (6 mi.) s.w. of Oaxaca; if driving, take Calle Trujano w. out of town across the Río Atoyac; it becomes the narrow, winding road to the ruins. One of Mexico's greatest pre-Columbian sites, Monte Albán presides over the valley of Oaxaca from a mountaintop location. This major religious center was built by the Zapotecs around 600 B.C. atop a summit that was deliberately flattened. At its height around A.D. 300, Monte Albán supported 40,000 inhabitants. The city was taken over in the 10th century by the Mixtecs, who were in turn conquered by the Aztecs, and fell into ruin around the time of the Spanish conquest.
The site's focal point is the Great Plaza, a grassy area about 970 feet long and 650 feet wide, bounded by four large ceremonial platforms. It was leveled by hewing away rock outcroppings. All of the buildings are aligned on a precise north-south axis except for one, an observatory believed to be placed in relation to the stars rather than to compass directions. Many of the structures are roped off.
An I-shaped ball court dominates one corner of the plaza. The Temple of the Dancers (danzantes), on the west side of the plaza, is the oldest building at the site and is named for the elaborate figures carved into its stone slabs. They were first thought to be dancers but may be representations of the diseased or cadavers used for study in a school of medicine.
Some 170 subterranean tombs are scattered throughout the ruins. These contain numerous slab paintings, glyphs, frescoes and stone carvings. Tombs 104 and 105 can be entered by climbing down a ladder, but aren't always open. In 1932, Tomb 7 (near the site entrance) yielded a priceless collection of items, which are on display at the Santo Domingo Cultural Center.
Autobuses Turísticos tour buses depart for Monte Albán several times a day from the Hotel Mesón del Angel, a couple of blocks southwest of Plaza Principal at Calle Mina #518 (at the corner of Calle Mier y Terán). The round-trip fare is about $4 (U.S.). The half-hour ride to the site is very slow but very scenic. There is a museum (with exhibit information in Spanish only), a bookstore and a casual restaurant at the site entrance. Licensed guide service is available for a fee.