Mitla: Ruins and Culture in the Valle Central de Oaxaca

Not even an hour southeast from the city of Oaxaca lies the small town of Mitla. The main tourist attraction here, the Zapotec ruins, have very unique patterns on every wall (see slideshow below). Throughout our trip, we observed these patterns repeated in many other Mesoamerican ruins, as well as in modern Mexican artwork and design. These ruins were like a portfolio or library of Mesoamerican designs.

Recently we showed these pictures to our friend Ibu in Taiwan. She comes from an aboriginal mountain tribe on the island. She confirmed that her culture in Taiwan used many of these exact same designs in their crafts and textiles. Ibu also told us about the similarities she discovered between her and Mayan visitors who came to Taiwan on a cultural exchange a few years ago. Perhaps prior to Europeans arriving in either Taiwan or Mesoamerica, these cultures were interacting from different shores of the Pacific Ocean.

We ended up visiting Mitla twice during our trip. Unlike many Mayan ruins we visited (where the energy had completely vacated) the Mitla ruins were still the center point for a vibrant culture. Many of the residents still attended the church, which had been placed on top of the original Zapotec ruins. Even more gathered in the public spaces around the ruins to sell their hand-made clothes, crafts, and mescal to the hordes of visitors. We loved the unique style of handicrafts.

Our favorite items had to be the brightly painted carved wooden animals and “monstruos”, which Mitla is known for around Mexico. As we walked down the streets we caught glimpses of women working the looms, weaving the cotton and agave fabrics. We found some artisans who took exceptional pride in their work and left town with a dress for Amy and a shirt for John.

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