Mexico's most important religious site is found at Mitla in the Oaxaca province. From outstanding stonework to complex architectural engineering, the archeological remains of the Zapotec religious centre is a must-see.
Where is it?
Located just 46km from Oaxaca city, Mitla is definitely worth seeing! There is a bus connection from Oaxaca City to Mitla departing every half hour. The round-trip ticket costs just few dollars. The journey to Mitla is a swifty 50 minutes trip and from the bus stop in the two the ruins are a 10 minute walk away. The opening hours are 9am -5pm on from Tuesday to Sunday. Sundays are free, and entering any other day will cost you a few dollars. For a little bit more, you can opt for a guided tour.
A little bit of History
The original city of Mitla was founded in 900BC and the ruins found there today were built between 900 and 200AD. However, the golden age of this region was experienced a lot later (750AD-1521AD) and this is the time when most of the ruins in Mitla were built.
The year 1521 marked the end of Zapotec culture and beginning for Mixtec culture. It is likely that the Hall of Columus in Mitla served as a residence for the highest priest of Zapotecan culture. This theory has been claimed by several people, including Father Burgoa, who said that the highest priest was more powerful than the king Zaashila himself.
On their arrival in the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers tried to convert the locals to Catholicism against their wish and unfortunately for the local culture, they finally succeed. Their triumph was cemented by the construction of a new catholic church on the site of the original temple.
The city of Mitla was divided into 5 main sectors. The first one was intended for the highest priest, the second was a residence for the other priests. The third one was dedicated to the army officers and the last two were reserved for the king and his staff if they visited the city.
Mitla, Oaxaca: Highlights
Remains of all of the 5 main parts of the ancient city of Mitla can be seen today. Excluding the Colonial style church, the remains pay perfect tribute to the delicacy and sophistication of pre-hispanic Zapotec architecture.
Mitla´s oldest structures represent Late Formative and Early Classic styles from the Zapotec reign, whilst some other buildings are grand examples of Mixtec culture and postclassical style.
- Carvings - Undoubtedly the most spectacular element of Oaxaca's Mitla is the clarity with which we can still make out the detailed carvings in relief that cover the walls. The different geometric design which form a recurring theme throughout the site are absolutely mind blowing. Incredible care has been take to perfect the patterns which are perfect in their complexity - unlike anything you will see anywhere else.
- El Palacio - This is one of the hotspots for admiring the careful stonework that adorns Mitla.
- Paintwork - In addition to carving, Mitla's paintwork is another impressive feature. Whilst the grandiose of the rich reds originally used to decorate the buildings have faded with time, we can still get a good feel for what Mitla would once have looked like.
- Grupo de las Columnas - This is the best area to stroll around if you want to take in the best preserved buildings. The exquisite Templo de las Columnas is undoubtedly the show stealer here.
- Grupo de Iglesia - This area is where the Spanish decided to build their own religious relic, the Iglesia de San Pablo.