Monte Albán

February 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’ve been based in Oaxaca for over a week now, and loving it.  But, there is so much to tie together and document that I haven’t been able to coherently put it together and feature it in a clear manner.  So, for now, this travel update will be about a day’s outing to Monte Albán.


Monte Albán is a thirty-minute drive from Oaxaca, on a bus much too big for the tight curves that hug the mountain upon which the ruins are perched.  It’s amazing, how much the landscape changed in the ten kilometers: from flat streets in the valley city at the base of several different mountain ranges to nature on top of these peaks.


I wouldn’t have bothered to go visit this place (once you see so many ruins, they just kind of become ruins) if it hadn’t been for a dare- to climb the tallest pyramid and clap my hands.  And I am very glad that I went.  It was the perfect escape from the hustle-and-bustle of Oaxaca.  I thought that it would be packed, but it was practically empty.  More shrubberies than people.

There were also a lot of quirky flowers, and a lot of really big bees surrounding them.


The architectural grounds themselves were a pleasant surprise.  So far, all I had seen were isolated pyramids and old building, so it was impressive to see an entire city laid out before me in all of its former glory.



I understand why it has been named a UNESCO site.  Not only is it one of the earliest Mesoamerican cities, but it is the second-largest (surpassed only by Teotihuacan), and was the center for Zapotec and Mixtec culture for a very long time.


There are many elaborate, yet still undeciphered, hieroglyphs, as well as strange rock carvings called danzantes.  The site itself is pretty extensive, including a vast plaza, various pyramids, a ball game court, underground passageways (that I didn’t manage to sneak into), and well over a hundred tombs.  And a lot of steps.


There are a lot of questions to the function of the settlement and the decision of its locations, as it seems less-than-convenient.  I mean, it’s on top of a tall plateau (have fun dragging all of the heavy stones up), there was no source of water, it wasn’t used as a habitation or military site.  Just a ceremonial ground.


Which is broken, in my humble opinion.  Because I climbed the highest pyramid and clapped my hands, and nothing happened.  I climbed all of the other pyramids as well and clapped, and nothing happened.  So, I started clapping in random places, and still, nada.

I did hear one group of visitors clap in a group, and the echo was pretty funky- something between monkeys and a bird.  Upon getting back home, I read up on the acoustic mysteries of Monte Albán.  Apparently, a whisper from one corner of the sunken ball court can be heard on the other end, and a clap from a particular spot travels through the entire grounds.

I guess that I need another field trip to the ruins to properly test all of these ancient sound engineerings.


But, honestly, what I liked the most about the place was the very opposite of the acoustics: it was its silence.  Noise is constant in towns and cities here; to have found myself lying on a bench, under the trees, and not hearing anything other than a gentle wind for a couple of hours, was my favourite reason to stay there the entire afternoon.



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