Yagul from Entry Road

The ruins of Yagul, 34 km east of Oaxaca, are situated on a cactus-covered hill 1.5 km off the Oaxaca-Mitla road. The word Yagul translates as tree or old stick in the Zapotec language.

There is evidence of human occupation from 3000 BC, although the construction of the city took place in the Monte Albán IV period from 750 to 950 AD. It was probably built by the Zapotecs, but with Mixtec influence, and became a leading settlement in the Valles Centrales sometime after the decline of Monte Albán.

Yagul Map The architecture combines functionalism with urbanism and monumental dimensions, and the building discovered form part of the civic-religious center from which the city was administered. The living and farming areas of the common people of Yagul are found on the lower slopes and level parts of the valley surrounding the city. Water was supplied from the Rio Seco which bounds the site.

The building found at the the site include palaces, temples, administrative and defensive areas, designed and planned with a functional logic for defining exclusive spaces within the city. Within it there are constructions on many different planes and levels on stepped terraces following the natural contours of the hill from north to south.

Site viewed from Fortress

The fortress is located on top a hill to the east of the archeological site. From this elevation, one has a panoramic view of the Tlacolula Valley and the small valley with the village of Díaz Ordaz. The construction was used as a refuge from military attacks during the prehispanic period. It is similar to the fortress of Mitla and was built during the Monte Albán V period (950 AD).

The preserved walls of the fortress were built of stones joined together with mud, and reached as high as three meters. In places, the walls served to level the ground. Remains of living areas were found inside the fortress, and a tomb was discovered and excavated under one of them. The tomb has a carved lintel with a good figure and calendar dates, which probably indicate important events.

On top of the hill is an oval depression, carved out of natural rock, which may have be assumed to have served as a bathtub. A small block is found west of the tub which could have been used to sit on or place items on.


Juego de Pelota

The beautiful Juego de Pelota (Ball Court) is aligned from east to west between the Palacio de 6 Patios and Patio 4, and its location speaks of the importance that the ball court had at Yagul.

This ball court is the second largest found in Mesoamerica after the one at Chichén Itzá. Like the ball courts at Monte Albán and Dainzú, the architectural plan is in the shape of an "I", although the one at Yagul has plain slopes with greater slant.

The ball game is thought to be a type of religious activity, based on the priest figures making offerings, which in many cases are accompanied by calendar dates and could have a cyclical ritual significance. The game was most likely played with two teams whose players with head and arm protection hit the ball with their elbows, hips, or feet in order to move it into the territory of the opposing team.


Patio 4

This patio is found at the southeast corner of the site, and was one of the principle architectural complexes. It has a low platform in the center that is considered a shrine, and is surrounded by four temples. One the east side is a stone-carved frog sculpture, relating to a water or rain cult.

Just east of the central platform is a stairway descending to the Tumba Triple (Triple Tomb). This is one of the oldest constructions at the site, possibly built in the Monte Albán I period and used until period V (600 BC to 950 AD). The small square tomb court walls are decorated with fretwork, and has three T-shaped tombs off of it.


Patio 1 y Sala del Consejo

Patio 1 is a quadrangular patio with three surrounding structures: the Sala del Consejo (Council Hall) to the north, the Palace to the west, the living area of the rulers of the city to the east, and an open area to the south.

The west room, used as a palace, is rectangular with three entrances divided by two pillars, and in the interior one can see the remains of the layers of stucco on the walls as well as the floors. In the upper part of the east room, one finds remains of a living area of the rulers of Yagul. To the west of this building and at the foot of the central stairway, two tombs shaped like a "T" were found where several leaders of the city were buried.

The rectangular Sala del Consejo (Council Hall) has three entrances divided by two pillars. The walls had three layers of stucco painted red, the same as the floor, and there is a niche in the center of the room. The function of this building was to accommodate the meetings of the rulers of Yagul, the same as with the Sala de las Columnas (Hall of Columns) of Mitla. Part of the decoration of this building is in the street behind it, which is decorated with frets, assembled with small pieces of tile, and could be the predecessor of the frets which decorate the three courtyards of the Grupo de la Iglesia and the Grupo de las Columnas (Columns Group) at Mitla.


Palacio de los 6 Patios

This palace was the most exclusive living space at Yagul. The complex consists of six quandranular patios, which together form a larger quadrangle. The patios are interconnected by an unusual system, the only one of its kind in prehispanic Oaxacan architecture.

Each patio is an open quadrangle defined by a sidewalk around the perimeter. The floors of the patios, as well of the rooms and sidewalks, are covered with a layer of natural white or red painted stucco.

All of the structures were built with the same materials and with the same techniques. Uncut stones were used for the masonry and joined together with a mixture of mud and ceramic fragments. Then the structure was covered with smoothed on mud, and finally with stucco and paint. It is not completely understood how the roofing was constructed; some data suggests that the roofs were flat and supported on andirons which ran from wall to wall and covered with layers of roofing. However, it is possible that a few were slanted and made of straw.

From an architectural point of view, the palace at Yagul is not a consequence of an hereditary process from Monte Albán, since it differs in function, spirit and in many material aspects. However, it contains many characteristics which were first expressed in Monte Albán, one clearly present being the fervor over recording death, the proliferation of tombs and the insistence in the death theme.


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