John Pohl, THE CODICES John Pohl's


MITLA  (circa A.D. 1300-1521)

When a Domincan friar named Francisco de Burgoa recorded his historical account of the Vuijatao or "Great Seer" of Mitla around the middle of the 17th century, the Zapotec Indian people he interviewed said that this remarkable PreColumbian priest was no ruler but rather served the Zapotec and Mixtec noblemen of the Valley of Oaxaca as prophet, judge, oracle, and medium with the dead. His magnificent palaces at Mitla were constructed both to house his court and to serve as the final resting place for the highest Zapotec lords, the kings of Zaachila. Spanish Colonial accounts give us a rare glimpse at a special kind of political authority in PreColumbian Mesoamerica, an oracular priest that the Spaniards compared to the Greek Delphic oracle and even the Catholic pope, in terms of authority.

Image - The Group of the Columns

The Group of the Columns. Many of the exterior and interior walls are decorated with two or three levels of greca friezes, called guiyeii in Zapotec, that have come to represent the hallmark of Mitla style. The workmanship employed in the creation of these remarkable friezes is astounding. Many are carved into the limestone rock itself while others were fashioned from individual squares of stone fixed in mortar. Like Uxmal, the friezes emulate weaving patterns calling attention to the importance of weaving as a form of economic wealth in PostClassic Oaxacan societies as well. Click on Image for more detail.

Image - pictographic manuscript

Mitla is unique in that the ruins preserve a series of paintings that are stylistically and thematically related to the Mixtec codices, pictographic manuscripts that document heroic sagas and over twenty-five generations of ancient Oaxacan ruling families. Despite their partial destruction due to natural weathering, there are three principal themes in the paintings including: the Central Mexican creation saga of the Toltec-Chichimecs on the west wall, the Mixtec creation story of Apoala on the east wall, and the founding of Mitla by Zapotec priests on the north wall. A fourth painting, portraying the founding of Zaachila by the ancestors at Monte Albán, was recorded by the German scholar Eduard Seler in the south group but it is now largely destroyed. The paintings therefore supplied a communicative environment for the multi-ethnic coalitions of Nahuas, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs among others who met at Mitla and arranged their alliances and resolved their disputes through the aid of the oracle priest. Click on Image for more detail.

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