Mitla Tourist Attractions


The ruined site of Mitla, situated on the edge of the village of the same name, is one of Mexico's most famous archaeological attractions. Although the site, like its architecture, appears fairly unimposing, the elaborate stone ornamentation is unsurpassed in the art history of Meso-America.

Group of Columns

The most important complex, the Grupo de las Columnas (Group of Columns), is in the eastern part of the site. The palace-style construction comprises two square patios meeting at one corner. The inner courtyards are each surrounded by three large rooms.

Hall of Columns

An altar stands in the middle of the first patio which measures 45 m (148 ft) 3 36 m (118 ft). Steps lead on the northern side to a platform via which the Salón de las Columnas (Hall of Columns) is entered through three doors. This room (38 m (125 ft) 3 7 m (23 ft)), once roofed, has six round porphyry columns 4.20 m (133/4 ft) tall and almost 1 m (3 ft) in diameter.

Patio de las Grecas

A narrow low-roofed passage leads to a small inner courtyard, called the Patio de las Grecas, surrounded by long narrow rooms. The high priest Uija-táo (Náhuatl: "he who sees everything"), who was at the same time the region's most important judge, is supposed to have lived here.
The walls of the courtyard and of the rooms are decorated with stone mosaic-work typical of Mitla. These mosaic walls were created by covering the walls with a layer of mortar into which precisely-squared stones were set in clear patterns. All of the extremely elaborate designs are geometric - human and mythological portrayals were not found in Mitla - and can be seen in no fewer than fourteen variations. Diagonal and interlaced bands alternate with gradual meanders, zigzag friezes and other ornamentation "á la grecque". Their appearance alters through the play of light and shadow. It is thought that the different forms symbolise religious ideas such as those of the feathered serpent or of the sky and the earth. It is estimated that more than 100,000 precisely-cut mosaic stones were used in the decoration of this construction.
Also typical of the architecture of Mitla are the impressive expertly-hewn square stone blocks which served as lintels and posts.
The installation of these stone blocks, which measure up to 8 m (26 ft) long and weigh 23 tonnes, must have been an enormous achievement for people who were without the use of the wheel and who had neither pack nor draught animals.

Patio of the Crosses

The Patio de las Cruces (Patio of the Crosses) adjoins the Patio de las Grecas on its south side and is itself bordered to the east by a building with a magnificent colonnaded entrance, also hewn from heavy square stone blocks.
In front of this is an underground cross-shaped burial chamber. This is also decorated with meander mosaics for which larger stone slabs were used. This well-preserved tomb was found plundered, as were a number of others in Mitla. The tomb, also cruxiform, situated on the north side was borne by a column called the Columna de la Muerte (Column of Death). Visitors embrace this column and measure how much of it they cannot reach. This is said to indicate how long they have left to live.

Churches Group

The Churches Group (Grupo de las Iglesias), located to the north, is named after the Iglesia de San Pablo and was built by the conquering Spanish in the middle of the old-Indian walls. The ground plan of this site resembles that of the group of columns but on a smaller scale. A patio and part of the buildings surrounding it fell victim to the construction work. The northern patio was partially retained; this and a small courtyard on the north side have mosaics on their walls and in the chambers. Here can also be found the remains of a frieze with murals. These once decorated most of the site's door beams. They had been kept in the style of the Mixtec pictographic writing systems, the most famous of which are the Codex Vindobonensis (Mexicanus 1) and the Codex Becker (Kaziken manuscript). They are preserved in the Austrian National Library and the ethnological museum in Vienna respectively.
On the other side of the Rio Mitla lie the Grupo del Sur (Southern Group) and to the west the Grupo del Arroyo (Bach Group) as well as the Grupo de los Adobes (Group of the Clay Bricks) which have not yet been completely excavated and restored.

Frissell Museum

Frissell Museum (Museo Frissell de Arte Zapoteca) is situated near the village square. It exhibits the largest collection of pre-Hispanic ceramics from the Oaxaca Valley.

Hacienda Xaaga

An interesting cruciform burial chamber was found in the Hacienda Xaaga a few mi south of the ruins. It is embellished with meander ornamentation and retains some of its original painting.
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