Why Go To Oaxaca?

After living in Mexico City for one month, it was time to venture further into Mexico.

The hype about Oaxaca (pronounced ‘Wahaka') has to do with its more indigenous feel, since the people who lived there were left isolated for most of the last 500 years, thus their culture and traditions can be seen freely.

While I personally didn't see an epic display of Indigenous culture in the city itself, reading the history of the state makes you appreciate this region on a much deeper level.

Where is Oaxaca City?

The Ancient Zapotec City of Monte Albán, Oaxaca

Most of what is known about the Oaxaca region dates back to about 11,000 BCE (Before Common Era), with early evidence of domesticated agriculture, but nomadic living continued for another 7,000 years.

A man sits atop a hill in the ancient city of Monte Albán

By 2000 BCE, agriculture had been fully established in the Oaxaca valleys, consisting of corn, beans, chocolate, tomatoes, chili peppers, and squash, along with whatever could be hunted from the areas such as turkey, deer, armadillo, and iguana.

A view of the Oaxaca Valley from atop the ancient city of Monte Albán

A view of the Oaxaca Valley from atop the ancient city of Monte Albán

By 500 CE, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs (pronounced Mitsteks) inhabited the region, within a constant state of conflict and war.

Evidence suggest that between 700-1521 CE, the population of the region peaked at about 2.1 million people.

Massive stairs in the ancient city of Monte Albán

The Ancient city of Monte Albán

The Zapotecs were the first to dominate the area, founding and controlling the city of Monte Alban from 500 BCE to 750 CE, which supported about 25,000 inhabitants at its peak.

The various stairs would lead up to temples for the high-priests in Monte Albán

Trees now grow, where they were once cut down, in the city of Monte Albán

Between 750 CE until 1325 CE, valleys of Oaxaca were occupied by many cities that grew and collapsed over time.

Most towns and cities consisted of about 1,000 to 3,000 people, and had a palace, temple, market, houses and the occasional ball-court.

An almost blue-print like view of the ancient cit of Monte Albán

A meso-american ball-court in the city of Monte Albán

Each town and city usually acted as a fortress as well, as they would all constantly war against each other.

For hundreds of years, the Zapotecs would ally, and then war against eachother, but by 1325, Monte Alban was captured by the Mixtecs.

A pyramid in Monte Albán overshadows the man under the tree on the right

The main courtyard in Monte Albán is absolutely massive

By 1457, the Aztec empire invaded the Oaxaca regions, established military fortifications, and demanded tributes, slaves, and sacrifices from the locals.

A close up of the structure in the middle of the Monte Albán courtyard

On another plateau of Monte Albán

Overlooking the enormous pyramids built atop Monte Albán

Yet by 1521, the Spanish Conquest ended the Mixtec control of Monte Alban, and the Aztec Empire altogether.

Relaxing in the sun in Monte Albán

A spider makes a trap in the perfect place in Monte Albán

How to build a buildings and large pyramids

A flower overlooks the ruins of Monte Albán

Relaxing under a tree in Monte Albán

Oaxaca & The Spanish Conquest

Shortly after the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521 (Pre-Mexico City), the emperor of the Aztecs, ‘Moctezuma II' told Cortez the Spanish Conquistador that there was gold in Oaxaca.

Several Spanish captains were sent to the Oaxaca valleys, but instead of resistance, the local tribes and civilizations decided to ally with the Spanish – including the Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Mazatecas and Cuicatecas.

Only the Mixe peoples resisted, but they were eventually driven out into the mountains, where they live to this day.

The first church in Oaxaca City was founded in 1522 in the valley outside of Monte Alban.

The Spanish conquest completely decimated the indigenous populations through disease, and brutal forced labour. Oaxaca had about 1.5 million people in 1520, which fell to about 150,000 by 1620.

The upper classes of the indigenous empires accepted the Spanish rule, including their religions, in exchange for maintaining their hierarchical positions and status.

But ultimately, the Spanish conquerors simply lumped all indigenous into one category (Indian), with no status at all.

While the rest of Mexico was assimilated much more forcefully,  Spanish rule was minimal in Oaxaca due to its largely dispersed cities, thus the peoples of Oaxaca maintained much of their ancient culture and traditions.

A pigeon sits atop a colonial-era fountain in Oaxaca City

The colonial-era buildings of Oaxaca City

The front exterior of the Templo de San Agustín in Oaxaca City

A nice closeup of the Templo de San Agustín in Oaxaca City

Just on the corner of Templo de San Agustín, several make-shift shops sell their goods in Oaxaca

A view of the mountains surrounding Oaxaca City, from the central core

The colonial architecture of Oaxaca City is archaic in a way

Souvenirs being sold in Oaxaca

Crushed Ice with many different flavours for sale in Oaxaca

I don't remember what flavour I got, but it was very sugary, but great in the hot Oaxacan climate

Shoe shinning is a lucrative business in Oaxaca, as well as all over Mexico

A mexican man, most likely of mixed genetics, takes care of his baby in the main plaza in Oaxaca

The Temple And Convent of the Company of Jesus (Jesuits) built in 1759

The bright domes of The Temple And Convent of the Company of Jesus in Oaxaca

A nice description of The Temple And Convent of the Company of Jesus in Oaxaca

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in the Zocalo (central plaza) of Oaxaca

The complex dimensions and angles of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Oaxaca

The front exterior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Oaxaca (1733)

The carvings and statues on the exterior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Oaxaca

The interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Oaxaca

Most of the central buildings in Oaxaca were built from large blocks of bricks from 200-300 years ago.

Manuel Garcia Vigil, an important military and political figure in Oaxaca's History

The Temple of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca, now acts as a museum

The exterior of The Temple of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca

The complex domes and exterior carvings of The Temple of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca

The side of The Temple of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. The interior now acts as a museum

This street is dedicated to foot traffic in Oaxaca

A bell tower of a church in Oaxaca features a bright red colouring

A woman with a skin condition on her forehead is passed out, while begging for money in Oaxaca

A hat vendor in Oaxaca

The various souvenirs and trinkets you can buy in Oaxaca

A mockingbird souvenir in Oaxaca

The central core of Oaxaca City

A ‘day of the dead' statue stands outside an Oaxacan restaurant

The Volkwagon Beatle was the most popular car in Mexico for several decades. You can see them EVERYWHERE in Mexico

The rear entrance of the Temple of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. It now acts as a garden

Álvaro Carrillo Alarcón (2 December 1921 – 3 April 1969) was a Mexican popular music composer and songwriter, born in San Juan Cacahuatepec, Oaxaca. He wrote over 300 songs, mostly boleros – wikipedia

A contemporary rendition of indigenous spirit animals in Oaxaca

A bust of an important political figure in Oaxaca. There was no information to who he was

A colonial-era water fountain in Oaxaca

The smaller hills that surround Oaxaca city feature a tent, that perhaps holds music festivals

The entrance to a school in Oaxaca city

A bright red restaurant in Oaxaca City

A woman sells whatever she has to people passing by, including candy, wallets, toys, snacks, etc

Antonio de León fought in the War of Independence against the Spanish, and then against the United States

Residents of Oaxaca listening to a political speech in the central core. The elections are coming up.

Residents of Oaxaca listening to a political speech in the central core. The elections are coming up.

The communist party in Mexico continues to try to recruit people, despite their very dark history on Humanity

The exterior of another colonial-era stone church in Oaxaca

The exterior of another colonial-era stone church in Oaxaca

Each statue consists of a historical figure that existed in Christian stories, or in Spanish-Mexican conquests.

Each statue consists of a historical figure that existed in Christian stories, or in Spanish-Mexican conquests.

Each statue consists of a historical figure that existed in Christian stories, or in Spanish-Mexican conquests.

Each statue consists of a historical figure that existed in Christian stories, or in Spanish-Mexican conquests.

Each statue consists of a historical figure that existed in Christian stories, or in Spanish-Mexican conquests.

Inside the church from the previous photos

An older lady briskly crosses the street in Oaxaca

Police patrol the streets of Oaxaca, although the city is very safe from narco warfare

Green peppers for sale in the markets of Oaxaca

Donkey posing in front of the Temple of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca

Leo and Donkey on an adventure in Oaxaca

A very interesting and well painted mural in Oaxaca City

Local residents of Oaxaca wait to cross the street

Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude (Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad) in Oaxaca

Looking at the enormous cellphone towers on the hills just beside Oaxaca city

The exterior of the Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude in Oaxaca

The exterior of the Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude in Oaxaca

Inside the Palacio Municipal de Oaxaca

Donkey posing inside the ‘Palacio Municipal de Oaxaca'

The dome of the Palacio Municipal de Oaxaca

Plaza de la Danza, the political center of the City of Oaxaca

Walking around the Plaza de la Danza, the political center of the City of Oaxaca

Donkey in the Plaza de la Danza in Oaxaca

Back in the central plaza of Oaxaca

Local Oaxacans sitting around in the center on a Sunday

A woman sells inflatable toys and balloons in the center of Oaxaca City

During a guided tour road trip, we stopped off a large shop that sells colored Spirit Animals from Indigenous Mexican Culture

Women colour small toys for tourists to buy in Oaxaca

A woman colours a cross in Oaxaca

A spirit cobra for sale in Oaxaca

Possibly a spirit cat in Oaxaca

A spirit mocking-bird in Oaxaca

More spirit mocking bird in Oaxaca

A 2-headed spirit dragon in Oaxaca

A single-headed spirit dragon in Oaxaca

Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol, partially finished in 1570, but never completed, due to the lack of further funding, and the death of all of the workers.

The extravagant columns of the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol

Tourists entering the Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol

Inside the Hacienda de Cuilapam (the tourbus brought us here for an all-you-can-eat buffet, drinks not included)

The hand-washing basin in the Hacienda De Cuilapam

A man creates vases and pots from Volcanic clay in Oaxaca. This was a major source of revenue for much of Oaxacas pre and post-Conquest history

A clay pot in development

A woman sells her wares in the downtown central core of Oaxaca to tourists

A man sells some kind of netting, in the central core of Oaxaca

A ‘trio' of men play music for the crowd in Oaxaca central

A dog walks around without hesitation in the center of Oaxaca City

Tourists from all over Mexico come to experience a closer-to-authentic indigenous Mexican feel for traditions and culture

A woman looks like she is having a hard time selling her wooden spoons in central Oaxaca

Entering the food markets, a man sells large slabs of meet in Oaxaca's markets

A woman prepares a dish called ‘Pozol' in Oaxaca

A meat-lady awaits for her next food order to cook in the food markets of Oaxaca

The most delicious soup ever, absolutely amazing. I don't remember the name, but it was soooo good 🙂

Conclusion

Oaxaca in the center wasn't as traditionalist and indigenous as I had expected.

From a historical stand-point, the further out from the main city you will travel (still within the state), the more traditional the culture will become.

Nonetheless though, Oaxaca's culture is vivid in colours, and ultimately the soup that I ate at the end was absolutely amazing.

This state and city is as close as you can get to traditional pre-conquest Mexican culture (perhaps).

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