Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NEH Oaxaca Days 1 and 2

We've crammed a lot into the last two days, some of which Professor Spores hilariously called "miscellaneous blah blah." Of course, he's being self-deprecating as it's all been fascinating, and I hope a lot of what we've learned will stick in my increasingly porous mind. We're all definitely in a heightened state of awareness, aural, visual, intellectual, and for some, spiritual. But we are very fortunate to have a wonderful group of people, so there shouldn't be any repeats of the NEH Florence drama, as memorable as some of that experience was!

After yesterday's introductory lectures, we spent today on an excursion to Monte Alban, Rancho Zapata for mezcal tasting and lunch (pictures to follow), Mitla and El Tule. So this is a little backwards, but just think of it as circling back and forth through time.

Mitla -- or Mictlan ("Underworld" in Nahuatl) -- has been peopled for over a thousand years, and possibly as far back at 950 BCE. The ruins we see today are from the site's heyday as an important religious site beginning around 1350 CE. Unlike Monte Alban, which was built on a hill and overlooks the Oaxaca Valley from several strategic vantage points, Mitla was built by the Mixtecs on the bottom of the valley near a small river. However, Zapotec influence remained strong, and the architecture shows influences of both societies. The geometric fretwork, called grecas by the Spanish, is constructed by arranging thousand of small cut pieces of stone using no mortar. It wasn't clear to me what the patterns were meant to represent, although someone suggested the elements of wind, rain, lightning, etc., so I'll have to do some research on that later.

Our last stop of the day was at El Tule, a cypress tree that is over 2,000 years old and considered the largest surviving tree in Latin America. I was glad that we visited on a day that was not too crowded because last year we passed by after visiting the market one Sunday at Tlacolula, and it was so packed with people there was no place to park.

So here are a few photos taken with my iPod of Mitla and El Tule. I'll try to get the rest of them up on Flicker before too long. Enjoy!

Mitla -- The Palace of the Columns from the entrance gate

The Church of San Pablo built by the Spanish using plundered stones from the Mitla complex

Remains of red Mixtec wall glyphs possibly describing important persons

Fretwork on the side of the Palace of the Columns

El Tule and the Church of Santa Maria del Tule

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