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Monte Alban, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a large archaeological site in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, about six miles west of Oaxaca City. The ruins at Monte Alban Mexico were the capital of the Zapotec civilization and were inhabited between 500 BC and 750 AD. It was one of the earliest cities in what is now Mexico. Monte Alban Mexico is located on a hill about 1,300 feet high in the Oaxaca Valley. The site measures between seven and eight square miles, and it is an easy taxi ride from Oaxaca City, where you can find accommodation, restaurants, and bars.
Monte Alban was a powerful city in ancient times with great economical and political influence in the Oaxaca Valley and beyond. Archaeological evidence finds that elite citizens of the city had contacts with other large cities, such as Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. Archaeologists have identified five major periods in the history of Monte Alban Mexico, with different cultural influences in each period. There was some initial construction at the site dating from the first period, around 500 BC., but most of the large stone structures, such as the pyramids at Monte Alban were probably built in later periods, closer to 750 AD. Even after the decline of the Zapotec city and the political splintering of the Oaxaca area into multiple entities, Monte Alban remained an important site for several centuries.
Today, tourists can climb many of the stone structures at the site, including the pyramids at Monte Alban. The structure of the city is centered on the Main Plaza, with many important buildings surrounding it or within it. There is a well-preserved stone ballcourt, with sloping stone sides from which people might have viewed the game. Throughout the plaza, there are numerous stone carvings, called danzantes, which depict captured prisoners in various states of torture. Many well-preserved pieces are located in the Monte Alban Museum at the site, along with other exhibits. Within Building J in the central area of the main plaza, there are some other stone carvings—slabs that document cities and areas conquered by the city. Building J is also believed to have been an early astronomical observatory.
There are also several temples with altars that can be viewed, located around the Main Plaza. The Southern Platform, which can be climbed by a flight of stone steps, has one of the largest pyramids at Monte Alban, an impressive structure with an open area at the top. In the northeast part of the site, Tomb 107 was the place where archaeologists unearthed many treasures belonging to this ancient civilization. Many artifacts are now housed in the National Anthropological Museum in Mexico City, as well as at the Regional Museum of Oaxaca in Oaxaca City.
For visitors wishing to learn more about the site, the Monte Alban Museum is located near the site entrance and has many excellent and modern displays. Local guides can also be hired at the site at reasonable prices. Be prepared for a lot of walking and climbing as you explore the ancient monuments on foot.
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