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MitlaMitla is a town in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, famous for its pre-Columbian Mesoamerican buildings. While archaeological evidence shows that Mitla was occupied by 500 BC, the earliest construction dates to only about 200 AD. Construction of pre-Columbian style buildings continued up until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 1520s. The town has been continually occupied ever since; part of the more recent town was built over pre-Hispanic Mitla, but some groups of old elite palace complexes remained. At its height Mitla had a population of approximately 10,000 people.

Mitla Buildings and Structures

Mitla MosaicsThe earliest structures at Mitla are Zapotec; the remainder are Post-classic in date, constructed during the Mixtec occupation of the site, but often displaying an interesting mix of Zapotec and Mixtec styles. Five main groups of buildings remain including the Grupo de las Columnas in the east of the site which is a former palace. It consists of three large rooms set around tombs and a courtyard. The palace walls are decorated with distinctive geometric mosaics that characterize Mitla's buildings. Each frieze consists of up to 100,000 separate pieces of cut stone. One of the rooms, known as the Salon de las Columnas, houses six monolithic pillars that once supported the roof. To the north is the Grupo de Iglesia centred around the colonial Catholic church. The pre-Columbian buildings that survived its construction are of similar design to those in the Grupo de las Columnas, but on a smaller scale. They still retain traces of paintwork and some artifacts which have been found at the site are displayed in the Museo Frisell de Arte Zapeteco Mitla in the center of the town which closed temporarily for renovation in 2001. In 1494 the Aztecs conquered Mitla and sacked the city. Once the Spanish took over, they found their efforts to convert locals to Catholicism thwarted by competition from native beliefs, manifesting themselves at ancient buildings such as those at Mitla. To combat the problem, the Spanish built a new church on top of the footprint of a former temple, scavenging the original temple for building materials.

Mitla OaxacaMitla Today

The official name of the present-day town is San Pablo Villa de Mitla. With a population of just over 7,000 people in 1990, Mitla is located about 45 km (some 26 miles) by road southeast of the state capital of Oaxaca, Oaxaca. The main group of pre-Hispanic buildings is at the north end of town. Today, the town of Mitla is a popular tourism destination for visitors to Oaxaca and has a small museum and hosts a large outdoor market. Most of the townspeople speak a variant of the Zapotec language.


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