Monte Albán Archaeological Site

Completed Project
World Monuments Watch
Oaxaca, Mexico

Monte Albán, the most significant archeological site in the Oaxaca Valley, is one of the most important archaeological zones in Mesoamerica. An ancient Zapotec metropolis, Monte Albán was founded in the sixth century B.C. on a low mountainous range overlooking the city of Oaxaca and functioned as their capital 13 centuries between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D. Its impressive architectural remains—terraces, pyramids, and canals—extend over some four miles (6.5 square kilometers), including structures built around the Great Plaza, the north and south ends of which are anchored by massive platform mounds. As the Zapotec culture declined in the fourteenth century, areas of Monte Albán were occupied by Mixtec peoples.

2008 World Monuments Watch and the Conservation of carved stones

Monte Albán Archaeological Site, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, was included on the 2008 World Monuments Watch to highlight the various threats affecting the site and as a call for the sustainability of the archaeological zone. Significant insight into the ancient Zapotec civilization lies in the hieroglyphic inscriptions at Monte Albán, but they rapidly eroded from exposure to the elements as a result of digs. Looting and vandalism also threatened the site’s structural integrity, as did unchecked tourism—the public was not always provided with clear guidance on how to respect the site and its vulnerable remains. An improved tourism management plan was needed to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the archaeological site while keeping clear of places too fragile to bear heavy foot traffic. An added assault to Monte Albán came with forest fires, which decimated much of the buffer zone around the site, destroying native crops, damaging architectural remains, and exposing the site to continuous encroachment of settlements. 

Our work at Monte Albán, supported by the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, focused on the conservation, documentation, and interpretation of the carved stones and benefitted from both public and private sector support. Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation provided funds for the construction of the laboratory as well as the storage facility needed to implement the conservation work. The stones were protected, preventing further decay of the hieroglyphics.

The Disaster Sites of the Caribbean, the Gulf, and Mexico on the 2018 Watch

The earthquakes that affected Mexico on September 7 and 19, 2017 caused damage to the movable and immovable heritage in 11 states, including Oaxaca. Monte Albán suffered severe damage from the 8.2-magnitude earthquake on September 7. In the area between the Main Plaza and the Atzompa Monumental Zone to the north, fifteen structures suffered structural damages with a third requiring emergency structural shoring to prevent their collapse.

Monte Alban was again included on the 2018 Watch through the Disaster Sites of the Caribbean, the Gulf, and Mexico, with the goal of mobilizing heritage conservation efforts in the aftermath. World Monuments Fund and the National Institute of Anthropology and History will collaborate in the earthquake recovery, stabilization, and conservation at the Archaeological Zone of Monte Albán and Atzompa. The project will include physical conservation, documentation, and geological assessment. By emphasizing training and capacity building, the project will provide local technicians with the skills they need to effectively repair and prepare the Archaeological Zone of Monte Albán and Atzompa for future natural disasters.

One of eight sites awarded funding by American Express

In June 2018, American Express announced $1 million total in funding to support preservation efforts at eight 2018 Watch sites. Included among these was Monte Albán Archaeological Site. Funds will be used for a project in partnership with INAH to address the long-term stability of Monte Albán, including physical conservation, documentation, geological assessment, and capacity building. 

For the past 20 years, American Express has given nearly $18 million to help preserve 166 World Monuments Watch sites in 71 countries. It has also partnered with a number of leading organizations to help preserve sites in need, build awareness, and engage the public in preservation efforts across the world.

Last updated: May 2021.

Join us in safeguarding significant places.