Day 3, in which we passed through 3300 years of history

Today was our first day of being offi­cial “tourists”. We went out with Jane and Nico, our guides, and five oth­er peo­ple who are stay­ing here at Casa Colo­nial. Today’s jour­ney was to the north into the val­ley of Etla.

Sec­tions of adobe wall are every where.

naked adobe
naked adobe

First we went to San Jose de Mogote to see some of the old­est struc­tures in Oax­a­ca. There are mounds through out the vil­lage, most of them have not yet been exca­vat­ed. The struc­tures were built by the Zapotecs around 1300 BCE. This site pre­dates the much more famous Monte Alban by about 1000 years.

This is not a mound or exca­va­tion, this is the new church in San Jose. Those are liv­ing plants in a bed built into floor of the aisle.

new church building
new church building

Here is one of the first areas to be exca­vat­ed. It’s basi­cal­ly in some­one’s backyard.

built circa 1300 BCE
built cir­ca 1300 BCE

These steep steps go from the court­yard up to the build­ings that are at the top. The stone is held togeth­er by cement.

steps up form the courtyard
steps up form the courtyard

On the oth­er side of the mound are these porches.

porches at the base of the mound
porch­es at the base of the mound

The top has­n’t been exca­vat­ed. You can see the out­lines of the struc­tures as you stand here. The view is of the rest of the Etla val­ley to San Augus­tine and to the right along the val­ley to the city of Oaxaca. 

the unexcavated part of the big mound
the unex­ca­vat­ed part of the big mound

There is a small muse­um in San Jose that hous­es much of the mate­r­i­al from the exca­va­tions. It was built in a cou­ple of rooms of the old Hacien­da. The Hacien­da San Jose (or Hacien­da Cacique) was one of the last hacien­das to be abol­ished after the revolution.

the hacienda porch
the hacien­da porch

This is one of the head­dress­es from the San Jose site. 


This fig­ure is the only prone fig­ure from the Zapotec era that our guide knows of. 

unusual prone figure
unusu­al prone figure

A lit­tle ways up the road from the court­yard and porch­es you can climb the hill and see where the ball court was. The Zapotecs played their own ver­sion of the bloody ball game that the Aztecs played in Mex­i­co City.

unexcavated ball court
unex­ca­vat­ed ball court

San Augus­tine Etla is also known as Vista Her­mosa. It sits on the moun­tain slopes and receives a lot of water from the springs above it. In the 1883 a cot­ton mill and gen­er­at­ing plant were built here. The man­u­fac­tur­ing stopped in the mid 20th cen­tu­ry. Over the last 10 years Fran­cis­co Tole­do has over­seen it’s recre­ation as an arts center. 

The pur­ple col­or in the foun­tains at the front of the build­ing was made by run­ning water infused with cochineal over the steps for a cou­ple of years. They used to be very red, now they are fad­ing to purply-pink.

the new facade
the new facade

The inte­ri­or of the cen­ter is two open floors of gallery and work­shop space.

the upstairs gallery/workshop space
the upstairs gallery/workshop space

The build­ing was­n’t the only thing that got atten­tion. The grounds are won­der­ful. There is a sys­tem of linked shal­low ponds that flow from the top of the site to the front.

part of the system of ponds
part of the sys­tem of ponds

From San Augs­tine Etla we went to see one of the most famous pot­ters in the area. Irma Blan­co is a rec­og­nized nation­al trea­sure. She sat down and made a small statute of a mar­ket woman for us. It took her about 10 min­utes. In this pic­ture she’s just starting.

Irma Blanco creating a market lady
Irma Blan­co cre­at­ing a mar­ket lady

This is Irma’s kiln. She and her fam­i­ly fill it and then cov­er it with bro­ken tiles. It is fired with wood. 

kiln for large figures
kiln for large figures

This is one of her mer­maids. She loves to add flow­ers to every­thing. The black clay dries to this light gray but it turns a light tan when it’s fired.


About the Author

Lara Harriger