Friday, February 8, 2013

Aztec Ruins in Oaxa and Guerrero Including Mitla

Aztec Ruins in Oaxa and  Guerrero Including Mitla


In the same State of Oaxaca are the famous ruins of Mitla, pride of the archæology of Mexico, situated some thirty miles from the state capital of Oaxaca. These famous ruins of Mitla are of a different character to the pyramidal structures of Monte Alban, although they have a low pyramidal base and were built mainly for religious purposes, it is probable, like most of these prehistoric monuments. They are situated in an inhabited valley, and the ruins consist of five main groups, some of which are exceedingly well preserved. Indeed, whilst the ruins of Mitla are by no means so extensive as others described, they are in the best state of preservation of any in the country. And this is due both to their method of construction and to their environment; for, unlike the low, tropical regions of Chiapas and Yucatan, this district is at a considerable altitude above sea-level. The great "palaces" or halls which these groups form, occupy an area of about 1,800 feet from north to south, by 1,200 feet from east to west. The principal groups are known as the "Hall of the Monoliths or Columns," the "Catholic group," and the "Arroyo group." Like some of the pyramids throughout Mexico, these are oriented, in this case the variation being but a few degrees from the cardinal points of the compass. The remarkable Hall of the Monoliths is a building some 125 feet long by 25 feet wide, with a row of great stone columns running down the centre. These columns are cut from a single piece of trachyte, 15 feet in height, and 3 feet in diameter at the base, tapering somewhat upwards, but of almost cylindrical form, without pedestal or capital. Whilst these columns are intact, the roof, which was doubtless supported on beams resting on the column, is gone. The weight of these monoliths is calculated at five or six tons, and they were cut from quarries in the trachyte rock of the mountains some five miles away, and more than 1,000 feet above the site of Mitla. In this quarry half-cut blocks for columns and lintels are still in place. Food for thought, even for the modern engineer, is this work.
hall of the columns
But the monolithic columns here are by no means the only remarkable features of the masonry of Mitla. The interior and exterior of these great halls are carved with a beautifully executed geometrical design—the Greek pattern enclosed in a quadrilateral, the blocks upon which they are cut being exactly fitted and adjusted in their places with scarcely visible joints. Indeed, at Mitla, as in other places in the Americas—Huanuco[9] and Cuzco, in Peru, for example—it seems to have been deemed an essential and peculiar art to adjust great blocks of stone with so great a nicety that no mortar was necessary and the joints almost invisible. This, of course, necessitated infinite time and patience—both of which were at the disposal of these prehistoric builders. It is to be recollected, in this connection, that each stone was generally an individual and not a counterpart, and so often had to be fitted to its fellows in the wall, by the laborious method of continually placing and removing. The remarkable and intricate nature of the mosaics and carved blocks at Mitla call forth the admiration of the observer. A vast number of separate stones have been employed, each requiring its respective forming, shaping, and placing, and one of the halls alone shows more than 13,000 such stones in its walls. The stone doorways to these halls are chaste, massive, and effective. The stone lintels in some cases are more than 12 feet long, and nearly 4 feet thick. Indeed, there exist at Mitla nearly a hundred examples of great monoliths, whether columns, lintels, or roof stones, some weighing as much as 15 tons, and up to 20 feet in length.
9 See the "Andes and the Amazon."
The earliest account of the ruins of Mitla, by Francisco de Burgoa, a priest of Oaxaca, who visited them in 1674, states that these beautiful halls were the scene, in prehistoric times, of the most diabolical rites. To-day the ruins are surrounded by a rude native population, most of whom dwell in wretchedjacales, in a waterless and sun-beat valley—an environment in striking contrast to the antique splendour of these halls of the earlier occupiers of the land.