First named Antequera, Oaxaca was settled by the Spanish in 1532 and became the headquarters for Hernan Cortes. Today’s big birthday bash and the weeklong celebrations mark this “birthday” event from the time of the conquest. Oaxaca has been in existence for much, much longer than 480 years — a testimony to her Zapotec and Mixtec history, plus that of 14 other indigenous groups that have called Oaxaca home for much longer than five centuries. The sense of place and history is astounding.
Left, photo of Santo Domingo Cultural Center (former convent); right, church at Mitla built atop Zapotec-Mixtec archeological site.
Left, Macedonia Alcala andador with view of Santo Domingo steeples; right, interior 16th century frescoes.
Over 6,000 years (some say as much as 8,000 years) ago, maize was first cultivated by native peoples in the Oaxaca valley from the plant teosinte. The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, points to Monte Alban as one of the great civilizations of Mesoamerica — at its height long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.
Left, Magdalena with corn husks getting ready to prepare tamales; right, scene at Monte Alban.
Yes, we love Oaxaca’s colonial charm. We love her colonial arches, gilded churches, cobbled streets, wide plazas, outdoor cafes, colorful facades and curling wrought iron. We also love her pre-Hispanic roots. We love her indigenous textiles and pottery and mezcal and corn. We celebrate all of her — not just from the time the Spanish came to conquer and mark time from 1532 forward.
Left, the white flowering tree from which the Spaniards named Monte Alban; right, the guaje seed pod, whose nahautl name the Spanish couldn’t pronounce, so they said Oaxaca. It’s how the city got her name.
Left, drop spindle (Malacate) used for spinning wool; right, potter working with clay, an ancient pre-Hispanic tradition.
The ancient Zapotecs have a saying that they adopted from the Mayans: Whoever controls time controls the world. So, when we celebrate Oaxaca’s 480th birthday today, let’s put that into perspective about how long Oaxaca has really endured and celebrate her entire history.