Mitla is an archaeological site which can be visited on a day trip from Oaxaca city. This site was at its peak in the 1500s at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, and is thus dates to several hundred years later than the other major archaeological site in the Oaxaca valley, Monte Alban. In 2011 the prehistoric landscape of the area between Yagul and Mitla was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This area is noteworthy for the system of caves that were used as shelter in prehistoric times, where some of the earliest evidence of domestication of maize and squash has been found.
The contemporary city of Mitla is built over the area which was inhabited in Prehispanic times, so most of the ancient city was eradicated. There are five groups of buildings which have survived in different degrees of conservation. The two main groups which are visited are the Church group (El Grupo de la Iglesia), and the Columns group (El grupo de las columnas). These are where you will see the signature decorative element of Mitla, the grecas, which consist of carefully cut and assembled stones which create repeating geometric patterns.
The name Mitla comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and is derived from Mictlan, "place of the dead." The Zapotec name for this place was Lyobáa which means "place of rest."
- The grecas: geometric patterns created with finely cut stone and assembled without the use of mortar
- The tombs: there are two cruciform tombs which visitors may enter. Both tombs were looted before the archaeologists were able to study them, so it is not known who was buried there or with what, but notice the grecas covering the walls, even inside the tombs and contemplate the amount of work that went into creating these beautiful decoration that very few would be able to see and appreciate.
- The Hall of the Columns: climb the steep steps to this room which is lined with six large columns, and pass through the tunnel that leads to an even more exclusive area where the nobility of Mitla lived and worked. One of the rooms is roofed to give an idea of how it would have looked when the building was functioning.
Getting to Mitla:
Mitla Tour Guides:
You can visit Mitla in about forty minutes, though archaeology aficionados may wish to spend more time.
There is little shade inside the archaeological site, so it's a good idea to use sunscreen and take a hat.