The ancient site of Monte Alban stands in a commanding position atop a low mountainous range overlooking the city of Oaxaca, a spectacular vantage point with superb views across the surrounding countryside.
The ruins are amongst the earliest in Mexico dating back to c500BC and the product of Zapotec culture. It was inhabitated up to it’s decline as a city between c500-750AD, after which it was mostly abandoned and forgotten.
The site is an a huge scale with vast ceremonial courtyards and several pyramid-like structures and temple platforms, many with grand staircases giving access to higher levels. There is also a ball court and a sequence of relief sculptures, known as the ‘Dancers’ due to their strange contortions (but considered more likely to be sacrificial victims or prisoners!).
Several tombs have been found at the site, and some fine pre-Columbian treasures were found, now on display in the archaeological museum in Oaxaca.
The Bent Pyramid is unique for two reasons. The first is the angle change. There are two theories for this change. The first is that the builders may have gotten tired and wanted to reduce the volume and to finish faster. Another is that when the pyramid at Maidoun collapsed, the architect lost his nerve and changed the angle. The angle at Maidoun was 52 degrees as is the base of the Bent Pyramid. At the bend, the angle is changed to 43.5 degrees up to the peak.
The second reason is that it has two entrances. The first is in the middle of the northern side and is about 12m above the ground. It leads to the upper chamber. The second entrance is on the western side and is just above the ground. It leads to the lower chamber. The floors of both chambers were built 4m deep with small stone blocks.
The literal English translation of “Comalcalco” is “In the house of the comals”. A “comal” is a tortilla-pan. Although this is a name given by Aztecs recently the Maya name has been deciphered and it is “JOY CHAN” (knotted ceiling).
It is the western most known Maya settlement.
The Mayan ruins at Comalcalco are a mystery to archaeologists and other researchers studying the unique architectural style of the ancient city. Other Mesoamerican sites of the Maya, were built using hand carved limestone blocks - not bricks. This is the only Mayan pyramid built from fired bricks.
When an oyster-base mortar used to bind the bricks was removed, it revealed various odd markings on the back of the bricks, including what is believed to be the brick maker’s fingerprints.