The massive temples of the Zapotecan archaeological site of Monte Albán, located 9 km west of Oaxaca City, are perched on a hilltop with stunning views over the valley below and the location alone make this one of Mexico's most spectacular archaeological sites.
The ruins sit on top of an artificially leveled plateau and the prominent location has attracted visitors and explorers throughout both colonial and modern times. Research at the site has led many to believe that Monte Albán rose to be the dominant Zapotec socio-political and economic center for nearly 1,000 years, from its foundation, around 500 BC to its demise during the late classic period around 500 to 800 AD. At its peak from 100 BC to 200 AD this vast city dominated much of the Oaxacan highlands and it was thought to be home to around 15,000 to 20,000 Zapotecans. The significance and status of Monte Albán is further confirmed by evidence that it interacted with other regional Maya superpowers, such as Teotihuacán.
The site is worth visiting for its stunning location alone, but there are also many interesting and original archaeological artifacts and treasures to be seen. The formal focal point of the site is the main plaza which is home to a number of buildings and carved stone monuments including the Galería de los Danzantes, or the Dancers' Gallery, so named for the elaborately carved stone figures that once covered the building and are thought to represent tortured sacrificed prisoners of war.
Other notable remains include the Observatorio, an arrow-shaped structure set at a 45-degree angle, pointing toward the southwest which is thought to have been an observatory as it's more closely aligned with the stars than with the Earth's poles. There is also the Juego de Pelota, or Ball Court, where one or more games were played and it is commonly thought that hips, shoulders, knees, and elbows were probably used to hit a wooden or rubber ball trying to get it through a stone loop located high on the side of the court. You can also find information and relics from the site in the museum which you pass at the entrance.
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