Kathryn Wright

View from North Platform

Monte Albán is an archeological site of the Zapotec civilization from the pre-Columbian era in the Southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico. The capital of Oaxaca is Oaxaca City; Monte Albán is located just miles away from Oaxaca City. The elevation of Monte Albán is 6,400 feet above sea level and 1,300 feet about the Oaxacan valley floor.


The population of the state of Oaxaca is 3,801,962; Oaxaca City alone is home to 255,029. Many of the people in Oaxaca are of indigenous decent, the largest group being the Zapotecs. There is a wide variety of climates in Oaxaca


ranging from dry to humid and rainy. Summer is the rainy season in Oaxaca and the average temperature is near 79oF but the average range throughout the year is 88o-77oF. There are many high mountain ranges surrounding Oaxaca creating the Valley of Oaxaca which creates a barrier for the winds from the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Pacific Ocean. Oaxaca was declared a state in 1824 and now has 570 municipalities. There are three branches of government, judiciary, legislative, and executive. There are eight major regions of Oaxaca and many districts within each region.


The Zapotecs are responsible for Monte Albán as they were the main indigenous group of Oaxaca. The Zapotecs had three different societies that are likely to not have been at peace with each other based on archeological evidence. The reason for building Monte Albán at its elevation was so that the Zapotec inhabitants could see across the valley in many directions in order to be better protected from possible attacks. The Zapotecs were skilled in writing by their use of hieroglyphics as well as skilled in the art of jewelry making. Zapotecs are held responsible for creation of jewelry used by Aztec rulers.


Monte Albán began its inhabitance near 500 BC and continued to grow and transform into a large city over the next 1300 years; by 800 AD Monte Albán had been abandoned. The Zapotec chiefs lived in Monte Albán and declared it the Zapotec capital. Zapotec culture was influenced through different groups such as the Olmec and Mixtec tribes. The discovery of Monte Albán was not an impressive feat, for the site can be seen from many places in the Valley of Oaxaca. The first archeological study was in 1902 led by Leopoldo Batres. Also, excavators Jorge Acosta and Ignacio Bernal have added much research to the knowledge of Monte Albán and the Zapotec society through the excavation of large portions of the site.



Currently, Monte Albán is a tourist attraction that features a gift shop, museum, and restaurant. The cost to enter is $4 for an adult and $15 for a guided tour. The Gran Plaza is the large open space in between the North and South platforms. The North platform has a series of mazes and tunnels. There are over 170 various tombs around the archaeological site. The Ball Court, or Juego de Pelota, was the location of an intense game in which a loss could result in death as a sacrifice to the gods. There is an observatory for astronomical observations as well as an altar for sacrificing. One of the more interesting parts of Monte Albán is the stones with dancers skillfully carved into them known as “Danzantes.” Although these carved figures appear to be fluid with motion, the bodies are actually in tortured positions such as childbirth or diseases. The original stones are some of the oldest remains of the Zapotec society and are kept in the museum on the site; replicas were left in the original places.
Los Danzantes


  1. Adams, Charles Kendall. (Ed.). (1909). Universal Cyclopedia and Atlas (Vol. 8). New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company.
  2. Brinkhoff, Thomas. (January 8 2012). MEXICO: Oaxaca. City Population. Retrieved from http://www.citypopulation.de/Mexico-Oaxaca.html#Land.
  3. Hayes, Holly. (2010). Monte Albán. Sacred Destinations. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-destinations.com/mexico/oaxaca-monte-alban.htm.
  4. Zapotel.com. (2012). Monte Albán. Oaxacaoaxaca.com. General format. Retrieved from http://www.oaxacaoaxaca.com/monte-alban.htm.