I have never liked history. My dad was a history teacher. My brother is a history teacher. I got through the classes, but never embraced the subject. That all changed the moment I started traveling. Unencumbered by a parents authoritarian lectures and dry professors, I found myself relishing stepping back in time to see a world thousands of years in the past.
I am still not a “fan” of history. By that I mean that I truly don’t remember facts, mostly because I don’t really care, about the exact dates or details. My now, overwhelming, love of history is based on the simple fact that I enjoy imagining myself there, in that moment in time. Whether it is pushing through jungle at Angkor Wat, walking on the Great Wall of China, or looking for Aristotle in Athens, it is only when I am THERE, in the presence of history, that I feel it’s passion.
Having said that, it can be easy to become jaded. Just as cathedral burn-out in Europe, or temple burn-out in SE Asia, are very real things, so can a case be made for not wanting to wander about yet another pile of rocks. We climbed Teotihuacan, and enjoyed Yagul, but passed on Mitla. Monte Alban, however~ that I was not going to miss.
Located only about 9km from Oaxaca City, the ruins sit strategically high above the surrounding valley, allowing for an easily defensible position. One of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica, Monte Alban’s fame stems from both the length of occupation, as well as being the mental, if not literal, center of the Zapotec socio-political and economic civilization of the time.
Founded around 500BC, the city became the capital of a civilization that dominated much of the Oaxacan Valley, and interacted with other regions, such as Teotihuacan to the north.
In the end, as with most of the civilizations of the time, the city eventually was mostly abandoned, and fell into ruins. Although “rediscovered” in the early 19th century, it wasn’t until 1902 that the first archaeological exploration began, uncovering a massive city in the vegetation.
We arrived as the gates opened, and wandered with abandon. We climbed seemingly endless steps. We tried to envision how colorful the murals were in their prime. Not only are the ruins impressive in their own right, the views of the city and surrounding valleys are spectacular.
In the end, we are so glad we made the trek across town, through the challenging streets of Oaxaca and up the winding hills to the site. Once again, by stepping back in time, we discovered all of the magic, and drama, and magnificence of the world that came before.