MEXICO ~ A Travel Services Guide:

Oaxaca ~ Oaxaca State, Mexico!

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Oaxaca, Mexico: Tongolunda Bay {Click to Enlarge]
It has peaks almost 10,000 feet (more than 3,000 metres) high, caverns among the deepest in the world, virgin beaches, hidden jungles, and luminous valleys that house populations where cultures of all people who once lived in its midst come together.  Oaxaca is the most diverse state in Mexico!

The City of Oaxaca offers visitors great colonial architecture, including the Santo Domingo Temple, the Cathedral, the Government Palace, the Macedonio Alcala Theater, the Lesser Basilica of Nuestra Sen&ntildeora de la Soledad, the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Prehispanic Art, and the House of Cortes.  You can also enjoy a variety of musical bands performing in the traditional "kiosco" and the "Alameda."

In the surrounding areas of the capital city, visitors can explore several interesting towns, many of which contain important archaeological sites.  Throughout the entire state are markets selling crafts and objects of popular art which are a treasure for collectors.

Monte Alban, the storied prehispanic capital of the Mixtec-Zapotec empire, is located 10 km from the city of Oaxaca.  Another major archaeological site is the ancient Zapotec center of Mitla, which in the Zapotec language originally meant "place of the Dead."  Mitla is famous for its unique ancient tile work.  On the land now occupied by the state of Oaxaca, prehispanic civilizations flourished and attained great splendor before the arrival of Columbus. Despite the conquest and colonization by the Spanish, the Mixtec and the Zapotec Indians maintained their language, their culture, and their social organization, the products of a unique indigenous civilization.

Oaxaca is considered one of the richest states in Mexico, for its expressions of culture and history and for its mix of prehispanic treasures and colonial patrimony, as well as for its music, dance, painting, traditions, and culinary arts.  Oaxaca's scenery is marked by nine spectacular bays along its Pacific coast, whose beach paradises contrast beautifully with the rivers, hillsides, and valleys inland.  But more than anything, Oaxaca is enriched by its charming people.

Oaxaca is located only four and a half hours drive from Mexico City, via the new superhighway, which provides easy access to the highlands of Mexico.  The major tourist resort of Huatulco, on the state's southern coast, also boats an international airport.

Every year, thousands of sea turtles arrive at its shores, not far from tourist centres, such as the Bays of Huatulco (Bahías de Huatulco) or Puerto Escondido, where visitors from around the world enjoy the warm Pacific Ocean waters at luxurious hotels.  In Oaxaca there are two places declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, the Historical Centre and the Monte Albán archaeological area.  It houses pre-Hispanic and colonial treasures unparalleled in Mesoamerica.  It enjoys all features of progress, communications, transportation, and health codes, especially in its capital city, without losing that air of innocence, of a community anchored in thriving times so characteristic of Oaxaca.  This is due, most of all, to the presence of its ethnic populations: sixteen indigenous groups who speak more than 150 different dialects, preserve their legacy and way of life with pride and contribute cultural plurality and that most greatest of treasures: its people.

Close to the City of Oaxaca, the state capital, stands the oldest tree in the world: el Arbol de Tule, measuring 42 metres in diameter, and over 2,000 years old.  This tree has witnessed a great part of Oaxacan history.  The Christian era was just beginning for the Western world when a superlative cultural empire thrived in Monte Albán.  It was a city inhabited by wise men, warriors, astronomers, and farmers.  This cultural empire governed the destiny the people of the clouds, which later become known in Nahuatl, as the Zapotecs.  Zapotecs believed that the world was ruled by a power without beginning or end, unknown, and all mighty.  The supreme deity, human beings, and nature formed an indivisible whole and their interaction had to be most respectful, balanced, and grateful.  Years and seasons were marked on a 365-day solar calendar, while another, a ritual calendar of 260-days, marked life codes and the times when the world self-destructed and renewed itself as if shaken by a purifying cosmic fire.

Tradition, ritual and magic are expressed through the dances, medium used secularly to propitiate and dominate the will of mysterious powers, according to a study performed by the researcher, Dr. Margarita Dalton.  In each community, the elder’s council, town councils and wise people have maintained and nurtured customs related with dances and music, which unavoidably accompany men and women when they must act upon the powers of the universe to propitiate rain, good hunting or good harvests.  When they celebrate weddings, welcome the new-borns or bid farewell to a dead loved one.  The dancers, says Dr. Dalton, do not dance for their own or the audience’s enjoyment: his or her dances are prayers invoking the aid of the supreme powers, which they consider dominate the world.

The dances, different in each region and community, evoke strange and profound rhythms though usually accompanied by recognisable music, born, maybe in Maid or in Durango, in Napoles or Zaragoza.  The masks serve the dancer to take on the personality of the bull, tiger, a European, or the devil.  The customs are the owner’s pride and joy and the most colourful, brilliant and distinctive note, not just of the dancers, but of all the indigenous communities and Oaxaca itself.

The traditional attires are surprising and bewitching.  Its designs, colours, and textures are a blend of colonial techniques, indigenous symbols, and the captivating colours of the silks imported from the Orient.  There are flamenco ruffles, bobbin lace, grecas with the mysteries of Mitla, embroidered batiste, and linen patterned to the Spanish fashion of the XVII century.  Each stitch reveals an idea and a job.  Colours are obtained from nature: reds from the grana cochinilla, an insect that lives in the Nopal cactus that once boiled and triturated, provides up to sixteen shades of red; blue, born from the indigo plant fermentation; black, from huizache; yellow, from rock moss; and purple, from a type of sea snail, who is captured, milked, and once its essence is used, it is returned to the sea.

The most appropriate venue to display and observe, teach and share, are the fiestas.  In Oaxaca, they celebrate all of them: Christmas, All Saints Day, Constitution Day, Workers Day, the Virgin Day (each town has its own Virgin), or local saint, national Heroes, historical victories and defeats, Easter, and of course, the New Year.  There are special days to celebrate teachers, mailcarriers, physicians, and journalists.  In addition, each neighbourhood has a community celebration, and each family its respective births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and sweet-fifteen parties.

The greatest celebration in Oaxaca, the Guelaguetza, is the institutional form of reciprocity.  The two first Mondays after July 16, representatives from each community celebrate a fiesta whose name means mutual present or offering.  It manifests signs and codes from pre-Hispanic tradition, and adorns with music and dances the sharing of the harvest and activities of each region: different types of pineapple, mango, sarapes, baskets, beverages, breads and coffee grains rain over the guests as a symbol of their general disposition to share, exchange and survive together.

~ Oaxaca, Mexico ~
Oaxaca / Maps / Attractions / OffPath

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