Monte Albán is one of the biggest pre-Columbian archaeological sites in the south of the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. Its location is over some low mountains that are rising above the Valley of Oaxaca, between Tlacolula, Etla, and Zimatlán/Ocotlán valleys. Currently, it is locate about 9 kilometres west of now is Oaxaca City.
The ceremonial center of Monte Albán is situated on the top of a lonely mountain, in the middle of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. Apparently, the strategic location, where the political, religious and army elite resided, might allow a better defence of the city in case there would be army attacks; but the population was located on the mountainsides.
As same as many other Mesoamerican metropolis, this Archaeological site was one of those cities with a multiethnic population. During its development, the city kept strong relationships with some other important cultures in Mesoamerica, specially the Teotihuacán Culture. Despite the city was abandoned for the elite and part of its population, Monte Albán was reutilized by the Mixtec during the post-classic period.
The archaeological site is not mentioned in the Spaniards chronicles, so it is very probable that its existence was known until the Colonial Period, beginning the 19th century. It was in the middle of the 20th century that the Mexican Alfonso Caso discovered the Tumba 7, where was the biggest Mesoamerican deposit of gold work ever found until now.
The Valley of Oaxaca is characterized by a warm climate with moderated rains; however, it is the Atoyac River which guarantees the water source for the agriculture, which in Monte Albán times was the principal economic activity. However, the mountain morphology of Monte Albán was adapted in order to satisfy the city constructions and its population; for example, the Main Plaza turned to be a flatten platform over were constructed the buildings of the city; as same as the mountainsides, where the inhabitants constructed their homes with little water reservoirs, necessary for the agriculture during the drought days.
Nowadays, the Archaeological site Monte Albán is open to the public every single day from 8:00am to 5:00pm. In the site it is possible to visit almost all the restored buildings.
Apparently, Monte Albán is the culture with the longest continuous history of occupation, more than any other ancient city in Mexico. As a sophisticated urban centre, they would have started among the earliest, albeit there are few traces of this first phase, it is still on debate over the founders’ ethnicity. But during the first millennium, the Late Pre-Classic between 300B.C. and 0A.D. was when the Monte Albán had a population of 17,000 being the biggest village in Oaxaca.
During this time was when the Zapotecs created their new capital and the following eras known as Monte Albán II and III building an incredible city, which is what it the archaeological site today. In the Early Classic period from 100A.D. to 600A.D. was the time when this culture became the most dominant allowing the construction of some famous structures and plazas making that the city turned the religious and economic heart of an empire. Besides, it is also in this phase when there were found important links with Teotihuacán culture, and an example of this connexion are established in the styles of architecture and steles, which were property of the high-ranking marriages and trading ties.
After 600A.D. Monte Albán began a slow and terminal decline. Despite of the reason are not so clear, as same as many pre-Colombian cities, abate is similar to the Teotihuacán Culture. Among the most common are linked to the diseases, the rise of other cities, political fights, climate, over farming, migration changes, or just an own unique reason eclipsed this older city.
At the time when the Spaniards arrived and started the period of the conquest, Monte Albán was never either abandoned or forgotten. During the final phase, Monte Albán V, about 800A.D. there was the influence of the Mixtecs into the region. This culture occupied the city, but not the main part of Monte Albán, performing religious ceremonies and building Mixtec tombs on the outside of the site.
The phases of the Monte Albán culture were:
- DEVELOPMENT Monte Albán I: Late Pre-Classic (300B.C to 0A.D.)
- DOMINANCE Monte Albán II: Late Pre-Classic to Early Classic (0A.D. to 300A.D.)
- DECLINE Monte Albán III – Monte Alban IV: Late Classic (600A.D to 900A.D.)
- DECLINE Monte Albán V: Early Post-Classic to Late Post-Classic (900A.D. to 1521A.D.)