Mitla is one of the most important Zapotec settlements in Oaxaca.
History of Mitla
First established around 600BC, it was later taken over by the Mixtecs in approximately 1000 AD and was still a thriving city at the time the Spanish arrived and destroyed it. Many believe Mitla was the most important Zapotec religious centre, and where a large number of human sacrifices would have taken place.
Mitla’s archaeological ruins are dotted around the modern town and divided into five units. The Church Group, which is the one pinpointed on the map, is near the main entrance to the site and close to the sixteenth century Church of San Pedro. This is one of the better excavated parts of Mitla.
Beyond this group of sites are four others, namely the Adobe Group, the Arroyo Group, the South Group and the Columns group. The Columns Group is often called the Palace group for its series of palace buildings.
One of the most impressive aspects of Mitla is the decoration of its buildings. Some are covered in geometric ‘mosaics’: tiny pieces of stone cut, set in the walls and painted. There are 14 different designs, all sophisticated in their own way: some see them as symbolizing the sky (or heavens) and earth. It is also unusual that most of the carvings at Mitla are abstract rather than of people or animals: many feature geometric patterns and motifs thought to be inspired by textile patterns. Other buildings have high relief carvings directly into the stone rather than in mosaic form.
There’s relatively minimal signage at the site so it’s worth downloading or photographing a map and any information you might want before you arrive. There’s a couple of hours worth of exploration if you visit the entire site: look out for some recreated roofs and the geometric mosaics inside some of the buildings.
There is a small museum at Mitla which exhibits several finds from the site.
Getting to Mitla
Mitla is about an hour away from the city of Oaxaca, and extremely close to the popular site of Hierve el Agua: you could do both in a day. Local buses or colectivos will get you there easily – a taxi from Oaxaca is possible but expensive.
Among Mexico's endless coastline, vibrant and modern cities, and tasty cuisine are a number of ancient historical cities. Here's our pick of 10 of the best the country has to offer.
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