Visiting Oaxaca Part 2: Notable Buildings, Museums and History

In part one I spoke of my experiences with people. In part two I hope to highlight a few of the notable buildings, museums and a bit of history.

The most notable ruin near Oaxaca is Monte Alban. East of the city about 45 minutes by car is another ruin called Mitla. These ruins are the architectural remains of a pre-Spanish civilization that began thousands of years earlier with Zapotec and Mixtec settlements. It was around 1440 when the Aztecs came to the valley of Oaxaca. Monte Alban had important strategic value overlooking the valley where the modern day Oaxaca is located. Monte Alban reached its peak between 500 BC and 850 AD with about 35,000 inhabitants. Today both sites are able to be visited and studied for their architecture, stone carvings and ceramics. It is a solid day trip to each site.

SALA Architect Wayne BranumMitla

Wayne-Branum-Oaxaca-Buildings-2Monte Alban Plaza

SALA Architect Wayne BranumMonte Alban

Following the first Spanish expedition in 1521, the nature of the civilization began to change as well as the architecture. The first cathedral of Oaxaca began construction in 1522. Villages surrounding the area were renamed after saints. Even today towns have two names, the saint name and the original native (Nahuatl) names.

One of the notable sites in the city is the Zocalo or town square. It was first laid out in 1529 by Juan Pelaez de Berrio. Oaxaca was the first town in New Spain laid out in square blocks with 100 yards per side. The Zocalo is a great place to sit and enjoy the activity of the city. There is music, food, performance and protests all happening there. At one side of the Zocalo is the Oaxaca Cathedral. Out of the opposite corner it is just a block or so to two large markets. The Federal Palace is on the side opposite the cathedral. A number of architectural elements in this building reflect motifs’ of Monte Alban and Mitla. Walking north from the NE corner is a pedestrian avenue taking you to a major church called Santo Domingo. This building was repurposed and restored in 1996 and is now the center of culture for the city. It is a wonderful building and museum which is a must see. There is a wonderful plaza in front of this building that has much activity. There is also a botanical garden here as well.

SALA Architect Wayne BranumSanto Domingo

SALA Architect Wayne BranumSanto Domingo

SALA Architect Wayne BranumZocalo from above

Rising north from the city center are mountains, which were a source of water for the city. The Spanish built an aqueduct that carried water to the city and even into major buildings like the cathedral Santo Domingo. The Aqueduct is still visible in many places through the city. We stayed north of the city and followed or crossed the aqueduct as we walked into town. It is not functional today but walls are still there.
SALA Architect Wayne BranumAqueduct

There are too many beautiful churches to list here but most are worth a visit. The memorable museums we visited were the textile museum. This is an older building that has been added to and restored in very nice ways. The areas around Oaxaca are noted for textiles and this museum shows them well including contemporary work by local artists as well as process. The stamp museum (yes stamps) was again a very nicely restored and renovated building with a stamp vault and gallery space with contemporary art with relevance to stamps. You have to see it! I enjoyed the Rufino Tamayo Museum very much. This museum does not show Tamayo painting but a large collection of ceramics and pre-Hispanic art collected by the artist. The museum is in Tamayo’s house, which he donated for this purpose.

SALA Architect Wayne BranumTextile Museum

SALA Architect Wayne BranumStamp Museum

SALA Architect Wayne BranumMuseum Court Yard

SALA Architect Wayne BranumTamayo Museum

Check back to the SALA Blog for Part 3, coming soon….