About Monte Alban
Monte Alban was once the capital of the Zapotec civilisation and the second-largest ceremonial site in Central America. The site remains no less impressive today: it was created by an incredible feat which involved carving a flat space out of a mountain rising to an elevation of over 1,600 feet above the valley below it.
Monte Alban was inhabited for approximately 1,500 years by a succession of civilisations, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs and, at its peak, had a population of around 25,000 people.
The earliest inhabitants of Monte Alban were the Olmecs, who are credited with the over 140 carved stones known as the monument of Los Danzantes, depicting mutilated figures. There has been much debate over what these figures represent. ‘Los Danzantes’ means dancers, but it has since been posited that these were actually war prisoners.
However, whilst Olmec contributions remain, most of the structures found at Monte Alban today were built by the Zapotecs, who are thought to have arrived between 800 BC and 500 BC. Construction continued over the centuries and was later influenced by the culture of Teotihuacan.
Monte Alban is characterised by over 2,200 terraces as well as numerous pyramid structures, large staircases, ornate palaces, elaborate tombs and even a ball court known as Juego de Pelota, mostly arranged on its “Grand Plaza”. The ball court is very well-preserved, made up of two facing stepped platforms with the playing field in the centre. The ball games played were ritualistic and often ended in the death of the losers.
In approximately 800 AD, the Zapotecs were threatened by the Mixtecs and fortified Monte Alban before being driven out. The Mixtecs took over the site and, in around 1400 AD, started burying their leaders in the Zapotec tombs. Whilst many of these ornately decorated tombs were looted, vast riches were found in one particular tomb – Tomb 7 – which can now been seen at Museo Regional de Oaxaca. Some tombs are open to visitors, although this is sporadic.
Today, Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small on-site museum showing some of the finds from excavations of Monte Alban. Monte Alban features as one of our Top Tourist Attractions in Mexico.