Thursday, March 8, 2018

Monte Alban, San Martin Tilcajete, Cuilapan and San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, March 8, 2018

I was touring again today with the same guide who spoke less and less English as the day wore on.  My head became overloaded with Spanish and thinking so I didn't learn as much as I would have liked.  However, I visited my most favorite pile of rocks ever - Monte Alban where the view of Oaxaca is spectacular-

Monte Alban was first occupied around 500 BC by the Zapotecs.  From 500 - 200 BC, hills were levelled, temples and palaces were built and around 10,000 people lived on the hillsides.  It appears from the carvings that they had a writing system.  From 200 BC to 300 AD the city dominated the whole area.  It was at its peak from 300 - 700 AD with a population of 25,000 and many homes were on the nearby terraced hills.  It was a priest dominated society that had irrigation in the valley and control over approximately 200 villages.  Once again it's a mystery as to what happened to this society.  Was it a lack of water?  Food?  War?  Disease?  There aren't enough bones around to suggest war or disease and why would a successful city just disappear?  With the abandonment of the city, it soon became overgrown and there are many buildings still hidden under dirt, grass and trees-

A form of ball/soccer was played in this arena which was built around 100 BC.  Contact of the ball was with the elbows, knees and hips.  Because the field is small, teams of 3 were the norm.  The terraced sides were not for seating but were covered with stucco to allow the ball to roll up and down the walls-

Buildings are arranged around the Gran Plaza.  They were stuccoed and painted red.  They have found over 170 tombs but none are open to the public-

Between 700 and 950 AD, the city fell to ruin and between 951 and 1521, Mixtecs arrived and used some of the tombs to bury their dead.  Tumba 7 was found to contain a lot of gold, silver, jade and other precious stones which I hope to see tomorrow in the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca-

Buildings had pillars, platforms, columns, multiple stories, carvings, ledges and other intricate architectural details-

I wonder what treasures this hill is hiding-

The Gran Plaza is 300m long and 200m wide.  Some of the buildings are temples while others were residences for the elite-

The south platform-

Edificio J is shaped like an arrowhead and was constructed about 100 BC.  It's filled with staircases and tunnels but no one is allowed in.  From this observatory they could follow the seasons and calculate agricultural cycles-

Building P was the observatory.  There's an opening in the roof that allows the sun to shine directly down but only on the solar zeniths - May 5 and August 8-

Views from the north platform-

The north platform is almost as large as the whole Gran Plaza.  The sunken patio was built between 500-800 AD and the altar in the centre was probably used for human sacrifices-

There are a few copies of stellaes on the grounds but the originals are all in the on site museum-

These carvings are at the Danzantes building.  They depict big headed, thick lipped men who were probably tortured and sacrificed.  Some have been castrated, disemboweled and you can see blood flowing-

These people were not dumb.  In the museum are skulls that were operated on successfully.  They know this because the skull has grown closed-

Other smaller statues pay tribute to different gods-

Original stellaes-

After Monte Alban, we went to a small village called San Martin Tilcajete to see a copal wood alebrijes (carving) workshop.  The father of the family carves objects using the machete you can see in the middle of the picture.  Wood shavings are everywhere-

Once completed, the carvings are left out in the sun for a few weeks to dry-

This is one ugly gorilla-

The carver's daughters paint the figurines-

There are so many for sale and they are so tacky but they must sell because the family lives in a nice home and many staff are employed in the shop-

An octopus, butterfly and my favorite: a snail-

A deformed tiger, an alien and an elephant-

After this we went to Cuilapan, the only Mixtec village in the Valles Centrales.  The unfinished Ex-Convento Dominicano church was abandonned in 1560-

The towers are not bell towers but watch towers.  The Dominicans were afraid of the Indigenous people-

The domed building at the back is a new church that was just completed 15 years ago.  The pillars and arches are in Roman style-

The entrance to the modern church-

After the church visit, we went to San Bartolo Coyotepec to the Alfareria Doña Rosa.  Rosa Real Mateo invented the method of burnishing the barrio negro (black pottery) by rubbing quartz on the dried pieces before they're fired in the kiln.  The potter does not use an electric wheel but spins the clay manually using two saucers for a wheel.  The clay is not black until it's fired in a pit kiln.  It turns black from the smoke and from the iron oxide in the clay-

In no time at all she had made a perfect jar.  There are all kinds of items for sale in the shop and they are cheap-

I was exhausted by the time I got back to my hotel.  Too much Spanish today!  After a rest, I walked to the Zocalo which is the main square.  It was packed with people enjoying the evening.  There are all kinds of sellers and I'm not sure how the small woman tied to these balloons did not float away-

The Catedral de Oaxaca looks great at night.  I'll visit the inside tomorrow-

There are all kinds of food stalls including grilled corn-

and a very strange concoction.  It's corn, either on the cob or in a cup.  Mayonnaise is spread on top, then it's rolled in cheese.  Chilli sauce and hot sauce are added.  I tried it and gave half away to a homeless beggar on the street-

The young man running the stall prepared it so fast-his hands were just flying.  Things were going well until he got chili powder in his eyes and had to have his helper who looked about 8 years old finish the orders.  People must love it because there was a long lineup.

Tomorrow I'll visit the main attractions in the city and hopefully catch the 5 pm bus to Puebla where I'll stay for 3 nights.  Time is flying!

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