Monte Alban – Island in the sky – 3


The Zapotec citadel of Monte Alban is one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica and dates in parts to around 500BC and, like the rival city of Teotihuacan, outside of modern day Mexico City, extremely blood-thirsty and violent. Walking around this place you try to imagine what life would have been like – possibly fleeting, definitely a life lived in fear (unless war and human sacrifice was all they knew – and violent death some kind of fitting end).

The etymology of the name is unclear, with some people suggesting it’s a corruption of the presumed Zapotec name, but since nothing survives revealing that name’s origin, the Spanish Monte Alban or White Mountain has stuck.

At its peak Monte Alban had an estimated population of around 20-40,000, whilst Teotihuacan to the north had a population of over 100,000, making it, so it’s calculated, the largest and most powerful city in the world at the time.  It’s thought that Teotihuacan for some time gained control over Monte Alban but one can only imagine what blood-thirsty battles went on between the two powers. We do know from the carvings in situ at Monte Alban that captured enemies, largely chiefs and generals, had their genitals ritually removed and were made to dance in the plaza until they dropped (that’s the generals, not the genitals).

Strangely, at around 800 AD the city was finally abandoned (along with the mighty Teotihuacan much earlier) and to this day, no one really knows why. But the Zapotec culture survives today and with over a 1 million is one of the strongest and largest indigenous peoples of the Oaxaca Valley and still very evident as you wander the streets today.



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