Suitcase and World: Oaxaca.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Photo by Derek Doeffinger
W a-ha-kah.  I just love saying that name.

Oaxaca is one of the 31 states, that along with the Federal District of Mexico City, comprises the country of Mexico.

Oaxaca is located in south east Mexico, sharing its northern border with Veracruz and Puebla, its eastern border with Chiapas, its western border with Guerro.  On the south, it is bounded by the Pacific Ocean.

Oaxaca City, the capital of Oaxaca state, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. By all accounts, it is a charming Spanish colonial city nestled in a valley in the Sierra Madre mountain range of Southern Mexico.  Oaxaca is situated at 1500 meters above sea level and has a mild climate year-round. Perfect temperatures for wandering around!

Archaeological excavations have shown that the region has had a settled population for at least 4,000 years.  Several cultures flourished in the ancient region of Oaxaca from as far back as 2000 BC, of whom the Zapotecs and Mixtecs were perhaps the most advanced, with complex social organization and sophisticated arts.

Mixtec bell.  This elaborate gold bell was crafted
with the lost-wax process more than 500 years ago
and possibly depicts the patron of fire known as
Iha Ndikandii to the Mixtecs. Bearded, with two fangs,
the depicted deity wears an elaborate headdress
and carries a shield and atlatl (spear thrower).
Zapotec funerary urn 300-800 AD, Monte Albán.
the Zapotecs built monumental tombs in which
they placed urns with offerings, often with the
face of the deceased upon them .The headdress
is a mask of the eagle and jaguar.

In the pre-Colombian period, the Zapotec developed an advanced civilization centered in Monte Albán in the central valley, which lasted between 300 BC and 700 AD.

Monte Albán, although center of Zapotec culture, was also influenced by other contemporary cultures. Olmec influence is evident in the early sculptures; more recent masks and sculptures reflect contact with the Maya. At its zenith in 300 AD, Monte Albán borrowed architectural ideas from Teotihuacán and dominated the cultural, religious, and economic life of the region.

Monte Albán declined in later years and by 800 AD was largely abandoned. Around the 13th century, it was adopted by the Mixtecs, who added little to to the existing architecture but whose chiefs ordained that they buried in the ancient tombs of the ceremonial center.  The most famous of these tombs is Tomb 7, because of its fabulous treasure.  Excavated in 1932, the 500 artifacts recovered from Tomb 7 are now on display at the State Museum of Oaxaca.  I definitely want to find time to see the artifacts in the State Museum.

Present day Oaxaca is still best known for its 16 distinct indigenous peoples and cultures who are descendants of the peoples who inhabited the region before the Spanish invasion.   The most populous as well as most well known are still the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Oaxaca City
The Historic Center of Oaxaca City and Monte Albán are inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Oaxaca City was founded by the Spaniards in 1592 on the grounds once occupied by an Aztec fort. The Spaniards commissioned the city’s design to one of the best town planners of the Empire, Alonso Garcia Bravo, architect of Mexico City and Veracruz. Garcia Bravo laid out the city with cord. He began with the creation of a Plaza Central or Zócalo (square).  The city's Cathedral was built on one side of the Zócalo.  On the other side, all municipal buildings, the basis for civil power. Symbolically, the  Zócalo's layout represents the balance between Church and state.

El Zócalo, in Oaxaca City, is reputed to be one of the most beautiful central squares in Mexico.  I think it will be the perfect spot to grab a bit of something Oaxacan to eat, may be some dessert and a cup of coffee, and just relax and watch the world go by.

Reading about and seeing images of Oaxaca City brings to mind memories of Antigua, Guatemala which also has a  heritage of indigenous cultures fusing with colonial Spanish influence. I fell in love with that cultural fusion during my brief visit to Antigua. I already have a feeling I'm really going to like Oaxaca.