Nestled on a 400-m mountain over the Valley of Oaxaca, Monte Alban since long has been the sacred city of over 20,000 Zapotecs. Until now, this archaeological site is the most fascinating and widely exhumed ruin that forms only 10% of the actual site that is still to be uncovered. Talking about its too log history, Monte Alban was inhabited by the Zapotecs between 800 and 500 B.C and they started to monumentally level the mountain around 500 BC leading them to construct Monte Alban that was influenced by many cultures evident in its many sculptures.
Among all the structures present here, the Great Plaza form the central place of the various structures on this mount. The northeast corner of this plaza holds the site’s entrance where there is also a site museum, a cafe, a shop offering guidebooks, and a craft shop. This plaza is a big open space stretching from north to south, which has been made by pulling down the mountaintop. Be here at this plaza from enjoying great scenery of the Oaxaca Valley. Start from this Great Plaza to take a tour of many buildings excavated here including more than 170 tombs, stelae, ceremonial altars, palaces, and pyramids. In the middle of the Plaza, you will come across the named edifices called G, H, and I, which were actually temples and also were the home of many tombs. Spot for a tunnel that takes one to Building H from the Palace on the east.
Now, move in the direction of south to spot the Observatory that is believed to be used for astronomical researches or for celebrating the triumph in a war. The latter one is evident via the glyphs seen on the walls, which might reveal the names of victorious groups. On the other hand, the former fact is evident from its stretch that was along the stars, not along the north-south axis making the Observatory the odd man out from the rest of the structures.
Towards the east of the Plaza, the ball court also known as the Juego de Pelota is seen in the shape of I. With its sloping sides, the court stands out differently from the others at Maya and Toltec ruins. The ball game used to be played here, which carried a ritual importance too according to which the losers finally met death whose carcasses were then served as an offering to the deities. In this east side again, you will come across a myriad of altars and pyramids whose wide stairs, sloping walls, and ramps reveal the classical Zapotec as well as Teotihuacán architecture.
In the south direction, the South Platform is one of the lookout points here, which held many stelae, now preserved in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico. However, the northeast and northwest still show the some of them depicting the war prisoners. Atop is a small temple called Mound III from where you get a chance to enjoy a good vista.
The west of the Great Plaza is adorned with additional pyramids and ceremonial platforms. Look for System IV, a pyramid complex that is same as Mound M in the west of the South Platform. The main highlight in the west is actually the Los Danzantes also called the Building of the Dancers. This one is the most ancient structure of Monte Alban layered with big slabs of stone, bizarre human carvings, and tortured positions. However, these are only the replicas as the real ones adorn the site museum. As these figures are carved in the fluid movement, they are called Danzantes. They are still mysterious due to no correct opinion – some think them to be the distorted bodies indicating disease, while many believe them to show aspects of dwarfism, childbirth, and infantilism.
There is also something called as the North Platform that is the huge labyrinth of palaces as well as temples along with the sanctuaries and tunnels. For the visitors here, check out for a plethora of reliefs, friezes, paintings, glyphs, lintels, walls, and jambs. As you explore, you can also spot some sellers vending the ‘original’ artifacts.
In the north, there are tombs and cemetery of which the tombs are decorated with splendid paintings, glyphs, and stone sculpting of deities, serpents, and birds. These might not be open for visit, but do check for that. Tomb 7 is the most popular one here, which is just besides the parking area in the east. It was from here that the 500 gold pieces, turquoise jewelry, and silver and alabaster objects were found, which are now in the Regional Museum of Oaxaca.
One more famous tomb is on the west called Tomb 104 in the plaza’s north. Its entrance has a splendid ceramic urn indicating a character on a jaguar throne. The center shows the picture of Cocijo who is regarded as the Zapotec rain god.