The Gymnosperm Database


Looking southwest across the Great Plaza at Monte Alban. In its time (which peaked around AD 100 to 600), Monte Alban rivaled Teotihuacan (see Day 17) as the greatest metropolis of the Mesoamerican world, with a local-area population exceeding 100,000 and in control of an empire that spanned southern Mexico.


Artist's concept of what the Great Plaza looked like during Monte Alban's heyday. This mural is at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.


Zapotec statue from the site museum at Monte Alban.


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Conifer-Hunting in Mexico

Day 4: Monday, February 7

A comfortable day. We rose late, had a pleasant breakfast at a little cafe in the hotel, and then got our car out of its lot. I should note that parking the car in Oaxaca, nay in Mexico, is often an epic. No one leaves anything, least of all a valued vehicle, on the street during the hours of darkness. Cars spend the night behind high walls, under lock and key. However, cars are scarce enough, especially amongst tourists, that many hotels, including ours, do not even have a place to park. Instead our motel has an arrangement with a parking lot five block away that we can park there. However, on Sunday that lot was only open from 2000 to 2030, so we had to dash over and park the car during that window. Then we could not retrieve it on Monday until the lot opened at 0800. Later, we could not really park it before 1700 because although the lot was open, it was also full, because it's a popular lot with the commuter crowd. Finally, we had to get the car into the lot before its weekday closing time of 1800. This cumbersome process was hardly unique to Oaxaca; it was duplicated in every city we stayed in.

Anyway, we got the car, and then drove up to Monte Alban, just a few kilometers from and 600 m above the city. We spent about four hours touring this, the greatest city of the Zapotec empire. I will not elaborate on its historical significance, though; HERE is one good link on the subject, and HERE is another.

Monte Alban
Ball court The Valley of Oaxaca from Monte Alban Temple complex IV
Bonnie in the site museum The main Plaza from the south platform Reconstructed cistern
Diagram showing presumed astronomical significance of the Observatory Danzante stones Bonnie on a temple staircase

Photo captions:

  1. Ball court. Ball courts are abundant in Mesoamerican sites dating back over 2000 years, to the Olmecs. The game was taken very seriously; at the playoffs, the losers were sacrificed.
  2. The Valley of Oaxaca from Monte Alban. The city originally presided over three such fertile valleys, but its days of greatest glory required subjugation of an empire spanning most of southern Mexico.
  3. Temple complex IV. Hardcore archeologists appreciate the significance of this building; to the rest of us, it's nice architecture. Used to be painted in typically Mexican (i.e. LOUD) colors.
  4. Bonnie in the site museum, standing before a display of Danzante stones.
  5. The main Plaza from the south platform; the foreground building is the Observatory.
  6. Reconstructed cistern. All water at the site either fell out of the sky or was hand-carried from the river 600 m below, presumably by a plentiful supply of thirsty slaves.
  7. Diagram showing presumed astronomical significance of the Observatory: orientation to equinoctial risings of the bright star Capella.
  8. Danzante stones in situ. Originally thought to be "dancers" they are now recognized as depictions of the slaughtered remains of enemy leaders; sort of like our former tradition of photographing the corpses of famous executed criminals.
  9. Bonnie on a temple staircase. OSHA would be shocked.

Afterwards, we spent the rest of the day around town. Bob and I found a science library at the Ethnobotanical Garden that provided important information about finding gymnosperms in Oaxaca, and we did some other useful stuff before copping an hour of siesta and then heading out for a quick stop at the internet cafe and then another evening of good food, good music and good people-watching at the Zocalo. Now it is very late and I must to bed.

Continue to Day 5

go back to "Conifer Hunting in Mexico"

Last Modified 2017-12-29