Monte Albán

México is covered in archaeological ruins; they can be found in city squares, atop mountains, and in the middle of jungles. They are reminders of the various civilizations that once inhabited the country hundreds and possibly thousands of years ago. Vast amounts of hidden buildings are still waiting to be uncovered in México, but it will take some time before they are fully excavated.

Located in Oaxaca, the mountain-top city of Monte Albán has been home to three separate civilizations: the Olmec, the Zapotec, and a group known as the Mixtec.

Surrounded by pointy peaked mountains, Monte Albán rests on an impossibly flat mountain-top. It was expertly leveled by its founding settlers in order to build this elevated city.

Although the Olmec lived in the area first, it was the Zapotec who took on the massive task of leveling the mountain. They began construction on temples, elaborate residences, and drainage systems. From about 500 BCE to 750 CE, Monte Albán served as the cultural, political, and religious capital of the Zapotec civilization.

While there is much to explore at Monte Albán, I was particularly fascinated by the ballcourt. Here, they would have played juego de pelota, an ancient MesoAmerican ball game with strong ritual significance. This sport pitted teams against one another with the goal of putting a rubber ball in a hoop using only their hips. This ritual occasionally determined who would be sacrificed as an offering to the gods; sometimes the winners were sacrificed, since this was considered an honor. As competitive as I am, this is one game I would be happy to lose!