Mitla is the home of the most important example of pre-columbian Zapotec architecture. While not as grand or imposing as the nearby ruins of Monte Alban, Mitla boasts intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric patterns that cover tombs, panels and even entire walls. Some of these patterns etched in stone are the very same that can be found woven into Manos Zapotecas bags today.
Mitla is a Hispanisized versions of the Nahuatl (Aztec) word Mictlán, meaning underworld or place of the dead, as Mitla was a religious and ceremonial center for the Zapotecs. The site is located in the Tlacolula valley, which stretches east from the capitol city about 45 km, where the dry climate has lent to the ruins being spectacularly preserved. While parts of Monte Alban have been reconstructed, Mitla maintains much of the original work.
Mitla was inhabited perhaps as early as 900 BCE and was a thriving Zapotec religious center when the Spanish arrived and promptly built a Cathedral on the site of a main temple. Luckily, perhaps due to the sheer beauty of the intricate carvings, much of the surrounding structures were left in tact.
The Zapotec people had a population of over 500,000, sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems and agriculture that included the growing of maize, beans, squash, and chili peppers, using irrigation and terraces in the mountains to grow food for a mostly urban population.
The town of Teotitlan del Valle, where all the Manos Zapotecas products are made, is located just 10 km from Mitla, and is one of the few Zapotec villages that has maintained the culture and language of their ancestors. The church in Teotitlan was constructed from stones torn from the Zapotec temple that once stood on the site. The designs, which are still visible today, mimic the ones found in Mitla, as the do the intricate patterns woven into their rugs, and our bags.