Visit to the City of the Dead in Southern Mexico

I am a lucky woman and I wake up every morning knowing it.  I have spent the last week in Oaxaca (pronounced wah-hah-kah) and I have two more weeks to go. One guide book describes this part of southern Mexico as blessed because it has a balmy spring-like climate all year round. Well, it’s not like any spring I’ve known: the daytime temperture over the last eight days has ranged from boiling hot to gloriously warm to oh-I-think-I-might-need-a-cardigan (two days).

Well, to be honest dawns can be a bit chilly…


I am staying at Arquetopia an official not-for-profit arts organisation that offers artist and writer residencies throughout the year. I’ll write more about it later – there’s lots to tell – but right now I want to focus on a recent trip to Mitla, the Place of the Dead for the Zapotec people.We went on a cardigan-wearing day.

In terms of Mayan, Aztec and other native cultural sites, Mitla was a late developer. It probably reached its population peak of around 10,000 in the 1350s.- about the same size as pre-Black Death York if you want a comparision. The city was still expanding and economically very active when the Spanish came.

The political centre was elsewhere, Mitla was the religious heart of the Zapotecs: the gateway between the living and the dead.  The royal family, nobility and high priests buried at Mitla were destined to become cloud people who would intercede on behalf of the population down below


When visiting historic Mitla, the element that stands out is the walls decorated with intricate geometric designs that I’ve tried to capture in these pictures.

Zapotec Indians worshipped the goddess Huitzilopochotli with food, incense and flowers on a special holiday when the dead were believed to visit earth again. Catholic clergy who arrived in the 16th century mixed these beliefs with the celebration of Halloween on October 31st and All Saints Day on November 1st. The result is the Day of the Dead

The Zapotec people weren’t wiped out in the colonial period. In fact it’s estimated that today’s population is about one million, many of who whom live in the Oaxaca region. Some do not speak Spanish: they are monolingual in one of the native Zapotec languages.mitla-006

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