Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo
Leaving the Ex-Convento de Santa Catalina, return to the Alcalá pedestrian mall and continue another block uphill to Oaxaca’s pride, the Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo (corner of M. Alcalá and I. Allende, 951/516-2991 or 951/516-3721), which contains two main parts, side by side: the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca and the Iglesia y Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, both behind the broad Plaza Santo Domingo maguey garden and pedestrian square.
Inside, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (7 a.m.–1 p.m. and 5–8 p.m. daily) glows with a wealth of art. Above the antechamber spreads the entire genealogical tree of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, starting with Mother Mary and weaving through a score of noblemen and women to the saint himself over the front door.
Continuing inside, the soaring, Sistine Chapel–like nave glitters with saints, cherubs, and Bible-story paintings. The altar climaxes in a host of cherished symbols—the Last Supper, sheaves of grain, loaves and fishes, Jesus and Peter on the Sea of Galilee—in a riot of gold leaf.
Continue next door to the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca (tel. 951/516-2991 or 951/516-3721, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun.), which occupies the completely restored convent section of the Santo Domingo church. A very informative audio tour headset and player is available for rent, for $5, just past the entrance security gate.
Exhibitions begin on the bottom floor in rooms adjacent to the massive convent cloister, restored in 1998 to all of its original austere beauty. A downstairs highlight is the long-neglected but now safely preserved Biblioteca (Library) de Francisco Burgoa, which you can walk right through and examine some of the more important works on display.
The collection, 23,000 titles in all, includes its earliest work, a 1484 commentary on the works of Aristotle by Juan Versor. Although not part of the original library collection, a set of four fascinating glyphs, in the largely yet-to-be- decoded classical Mixtec Ñuiñe written language, were on display at my last visit.
A Museo sign points you upstairs via a glitteringly restored, towering domed chamber, adorned overhead with the Dominican founding fathers, presided over by Santo Domingo de Guzmán himself.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the seeming miles of meticulously prepared displays divided into about two dozen long rooms covering various historical periods. One room exhibits priceless Monte Albán–era artifacts, including one of the most important of the original so-called danzantes, with the typically mutilated sex organs.
The climax comes in the Tesoros de Tumba 7 (Treasures of Tomb 7) room, where the entire gilded treasure discovered at Monte Albán Tomb 7 is on display. Beside a small mountain of gold and turquoise ornaments, notice the small but masterfully executed golden head of Ecéchatl, god of the wind, made eerie by the omission of facial skin over the jaw, to produce a nightmarishly skeletal piece of jewelry.
The museum also includes a big jardín etno-botánico (ethno-botanical garden) in its big backyard. The staff customarily conduct tours, but the schedule seems to change often. The announced schedule for the two-hour tour in Spanish is 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. daily except Sunday, $5 per person; tours in English are at 11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday, $10 per person. Inquire (check for the tour schedule on the door) at the ethno-botanical library (tel./fax 951/516-5325, 951/516-7915) at the garden entrance, at the northwest corner of Reforma and Constitución, two blocks behind the Santo Domingo churchfront.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition