Oaxacan Diary: Day Five – Part One.

Monday 22nd January, 2018.

Getting into the groove as, blessedly, the night club was silent last night and we all had a good nights sleep!! So it’s donning the sun hats and slapping on the sun screen today as we head for the hills.

Referred to as the ‘hidden ruins’, the Zona Arqueologica de Atzompa (Atzompa Archaeological Site) sits on top of a hilltop adjacent to Monte Alban, just outside the city of Oaxaca. This is an archaeological site that has just recently been excavated and reconstruction work is very evident. Atzompa was a satellite city of the great Zapotec capital of Monte Alban. The Atzompa archaeological site dates from around 650 to 850 A.D. and since excavations are not yet complete, very few tourists make their way up here so we had the place to ourselves.IMG_0190To date archaeologists have uncovered two sumptuous residencies, several temples, a large kiln and three ball courts on this site.  Atzompa was built as a Zapotec satellite city from Monte Alban which was expanding rapidly at the time. It was likely built as a lookout location over the Valley of Etla and the possibility of Mixtec encroachment. There is also some evidence that it produced some quarried stone for Monte Alban’s last phase of construction.

The climb up is an easy and well established route with a plethora of native flora.34C0CD1B-EA6E-4ED3-8020-DEDE5024A49221BF0989-9E40-41F5-B837-8C37C1F6EF53The Casa de los Altares was a residence of an elite family. The sunken patio is surrounded by 18 rooms and is made with cut stone and stucco. According to Julio our guide, the rubble style infill is a recent reconstruction as archaeologists are unsure as to the real materials and methods used. IMG_0201The ballgame court – the game itself  had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held. Late in the history of the game, some cultures occasionally seem to have combined competitions with religious human sacrifice. The sport was also played casually for recreation by children and may have been played by women as well.IMG_0199The pre-Columbian kiln that was discovered at the Atzompa Archaeological site is thought to be more than 1,300 years old – this has been deduced from the ceramics found with it at the time of excavation. IMG_0208The kiln was used to make pottery for the area and is almost identical to those used in the town of Santa Maria Atzompa today – demonstrating the high degree of artisanship that has passed through generations and that provides a link between the pre-Colombian pottery tradition and the artisanal ceramics currently being produced in Santa Maria Atzompa today.

This link with the past was never more evident than when we visited Serina Simón Lopez in her workshop in San Bartolo Coyotepec and saw her husband Luis’s clever set up of three updraft kilns – see previous story.IMG_0174The beauty and effectiveness of these simple updraft kilns was to be found in many of the potteries we visited in and around Oaxaca, and later in the tour, in the mountainous regions of Mixteca. Such as the kiln of Juanita and Felipe of Santa Maria Atzompa…….IMG_0299………..and the kiln of Gregoria up in the hills of Mixtec………IMG_0612…….all of these kilns, the way the local materials have been used to construct them, the fuels they use to fire them and the way they are fired have the same deep connections with the past that are rooted in the present.

From the shard strew hillside of the Zona Arqueologica de Atzompa we head back down into the town of Santa Maria Atzompa to visit the home and workshop of Rufina Ruiz – see following story………..


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