Yagul is an archaeological site and former city-state associated with the Zapotec civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The site was declared one of the country's four Natural Monuments on 13 October 1998. The site is also known locally as Pueblo Viejo (Old Village) and was occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest. After the Conquest the population was relocated to the nearby modern town of Tlacolula where their descendants still live.
Yagul was first occupied around 500-100 BC. Around 500-700 AD,
residential, civic and ceremonial structures were built at the
site. However, most of the visible remains date to 1250-1521 AD,
when the site functioned as the capital of a Postclassic
The site was excavated in the 1950s and 60s by archaeologists
Ignacio Bernal and John Paddock.
Vestiges of human habitation in the area, namely cliff paintings
at Caballito Blanco, date to at least 3000 BCE. After the
abandonment of Monte Albán about 800 CE, the region's inhabitants
established themselves in various small centers such as Lambityeco,
Mitla and Yagul.
Yagul comes from the Zapotec language, it is formed from
ya (tree) and gul (old), hence "old tree".
Yagul is located just off Highway 190 between the city of Oaxaca
and Mitla, about 36 km
from the former. The site is situated on a volcanic outcrop
surrounded by fertile alluvial land. The Salado river flows to the
The site is set around a hill, and can be divided into three
principle areas; the fortress, the ceremonial center and the
residential areas. The construction stone at Yagul is mainly river
cobbles formed from volcanic rock such as basalt. About 30 tombs
have been found at Yagul, sometimes located in pairs. A few of
these bear hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Situated atop the cliffs to the northeast of the site and
protected by natural and artificial walls, it has an excellent
vantage point over the whole Tlacolula Valley. It has several
lookout points, including one reached by a narrow bridge.
Unexcavated residential areas lie on terraces to the south, east
and west of the hill. Classic Period residences are to the
northwest of the excavated ceremonial centre and lower class
Postclassic residences are presumed to lie around the site
The ceremonial center composes the vast majority of what has
been excavated, and what can be seen today. Some of the structures
in this area are:
Ballcourt. The restored ballcourt has an east-west
orientation and is the largest in the Valley of Oaxaca. A carved
serpent's head, now in the Regional Museum in Oaxaca, was
found fixed to the top of the south wall. The ballcourt was built
in the Classic Period between 500 and 700 AD, and then widened
between 700 and 900 AD. It has a total length of 47 meters and a
central field length of 30 meters, and is 6 meters wide.
Palace of the Six Patios. This is a labyrinthine
structure formed of an intricate complex of passageways and many
rooms. It is formed of three elite complexes, each with two patios
surrounded by rooms. In each pair of patios, the northern was
probably a residence and the southern was possibly the
administrative area. A tomb entrance is found in each patio. The
same layout is found at the nearby site of Mitla although the
two sites were probably independent. The walls are faced with
dressed stones and stucco over a rough stone and clay core, the
floors were of red stucco.
Patio 1 is a large open area immediately southeast of
the Palace of the Six Patios. It has rooms on all sides except the
south side. Immediately to the south of Patio 1 is a temple.
Patio 4 lies to the southeast of the ballcourt and is
part of a temple-patio-altar complex formed from four mounds around
a central altar. It was in use from at least the Classic Period
through to the Postclassic. A sculpture of a frog-effigy lies at
the base of the eastern mound.
Tomb 30. This Postclassic tomb lies underneath Patio 4.
It is formed of three chambers with decorated panels, the principle
chamber has a facade decorated with two human heads carved in
stone. The door to the tomb is a stone slab with hieroglyphic
inscriptions on both sides.
Council Chamber. This is a long, narrow chamber with an
east-west orientation, lying to the south of a narrow "street". It
was once decorated with stone mosaics and was entered via steps
from Patio 1, which lies immediately to the south. The entrance is
divided into 3 sections by two 2-meter wide pillars. Due to its
non-residential nature and its lack of a shrine or temple, this
room is presumed to have been administrative in function.
Decorated Street. This narrow "street" runs in an
east-west direction between the Palace of the Six Patios to the
north and the Council Chamber to the south. Its southern wall is
over 40 meters long and was decorated with geometric stone mosaics
similar to those at Mitla.
Building U. This building was built on an artificial
platform in the northern part of the site, a tomb lies under its
floor. It is reached by a stairway to the south and has a good view
across most of the site.
The site is in the care of the Instituto Nacional de
Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and
History) and is open to the public.
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revised edition, University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN
- INAH (1973) The Oaxaca Valley: Official Guide, Instituto
Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico.
- Kowalewski, Stephen A., Gary M.Feinman, Laura Finsten and
Richard E. Blanton (1991) Pre-Hispanic Ballcourts from the
Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico in Scarborough, Vernon L. and Wilcox,
David R. (eds) The Mesoamerican Ballgame, University of
Arizona Press, Tucson. ISBN 0-8165-1360-0.
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