Oaxaca's Tourist Guide
Oaxaca's Tourist Guide


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(Click to enlarge)
Black&White photos courtesy of Vittorio D'Onofri

En route
Zapotec Woman


Historical Background
It is believed that nomad, gatherer tribes, first inhabited the Central Valleys of Oaxaca approximately ten thousand years ago. It was in 1500 BC, however, that said tribes, closely related to the Olmecas, left nearby caves and began settling by developing agricultural activities, and populating the valleys. The architectural testimony of this era corresponds to the period denominated Monte Albn I, from 700 to 300 BC.

During the Monte Albn II period, the valleys were invaded by southern groups, that although unsuccessful trying to achieve hegemony in the region, did leave their mark. In the Classic period (500 to 750 AD), called Monte Albn III, this city became the most important Zapotec centre, which "for unknown reasons" was abandoned at the end of the eighth century.

Monte Albns importance during this period, reached its zenith toward 600 AD, when the city, in addition to being the Zapotec hegemonic focus --grew enormously and left indisputable proof of its architectural and cultural magnificence.

Location and Environment
The Zapotecs, as indigenous group, do not comprise a homogenous unit. The diversity of its habitat has determined substantial differences -- economical as well as cultural-- that have produced four sub-groups. Those residing in the Ixtlan Sierra form the first group: Villa Alta and Choapan. The second group, by those inhabiting southern Oaxaca (Miahuatlan). The third group includes the Oaxacan Valley Zapotecs, and the fourth, Isthmus residents in the former Tehuantepec and Juchitan districts.

Zapotecs are distributed in sixty-seven municipalities throughout the Oaxacan Valleys within the former districts of Etla, Ejutla, Zaachila, Zimatlan, Centro, Tlacolula, and Ocotln. The largest indigenous communities are concentrated on the last three districts mentioned.

This region of wide plains has an average altitude of 4,921 feet above sea level and suitable for agriculture, is irrigated by three rivers: Atoyac, Sola, and Grande. Its climate is varied, predominating dry climate in the Central and Northern areas with average temperature of 64F, and summer rains. The Western and Southern area climate is temperate with summer rains and mild winters. The soil of this region --excepting high erosion areas such as Etla and Zaachila-- is "chernozen" or black.

Mountain chains that cross Tlacolula border the valleys on the south-east. To the north is the Sierra Madre Oriental, and to the south, the Sierra Madre Occidental.