You can call them the Big Three: Teotihuacan, Palenque and Chichen Itza are the three world famous archaelogical sites in Mexico. But isn’t it every traveller’s dream to find another unexpected highlight on your journey, one that might actually trump the other ones?
You can’t even see the Monte Alban structures from Oaxaca city, the cultural and culinary heart of Mexico. From down in the valley, in the bustling city at a height of 1,500 metres already, you only see hills everywhere. But once you take a cranky tourist bus for fifteen minutes, through the hilly and poor favelas in the southwestern corner of Oaxaca, you will find the first signs that something special can be found here.
Not top of the list
Their version of a clock
Just like Teotihuacan, the level of sophistication is stunning. In the heart of the plaza is a rectangular stone, around five metres high. That doesn’t make sense, until you find out the inhabitants used it because the sun cast an exact 180 degree shadow daily at noon: It was their version of a clock.
Discoveries like that make Monte Anban feel like a true exploration. There is crazy artwork everywhere. On the western side, near building L, there are the insane ‘Danzantes’. These dancers are sometimes genitally mutated, which makes them even more bizarre.
Near the center of the plaza are large carved slabs that are probably ‘victory badges’ or ‘conquest badges’. Because, as the settlement was growing in the centuries after 500BC, Monte Alban became one of the most important Mesoamerican cities. There were even contacts to other highly developed civilizations such as Teotihuacan.
Good to know
- Monte Alban is on an artificial plain on top of a mountain, at a height of almost 2,000 metres. This means it can get blisteringly hot in summer, so be prepared (hat, sunscreen, liquids)
- Getting there:
- Go to the Hotel Rivera de Angel
- Opposite, at the corner of Diaz Ordaz and Franciso Javier Mina streets, are small autobuses for around 15 persons
- Buy a ticket in a small office (employees will show you the way, no worries). You can also define at what time you want to go back (you need at least 2-3 hours on site)
- Buses go every 30 minutes
- Entrance to the site itself can be paid up on the mountain
- Alternatively, there are tours by travel agencies, or you can take a taxi
- Wikipedia entry on Monte Alban