Yagul Archaeological Zone
The regal remains of Yagul (Zapotec for “old tree,” 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) preside atop their volcanic hilltop, 28 miles (45 km) east of Oaxaca City. Although only six miles (10 km) from Mitla and sharing architectural details, such as Mitla’s famous greca fretwork, the size and complexity of its buildings suggest that Yagul was an independent city-state in its own right.
Local folks call the present ruin the Pueblo Viejo (Old Town) and remember it as the forerunner of the present town of Tlacolula. Archaeological evidence, which indicates that Yagul was occupied for about a thousand years, at least until around A.D. 1100 or 1200, bears them out.
One of Yagul’s major claims to fame is its Palace of Six Patios, actually three nearly identical but separate complexes of two patios each. In each patio, rooms surround a central courtyard. The northerly patio of each complex is more private and probably was the residence, while the other, more open patio served administrative functions.
South of the palace sprawls Yagul’s huge ball court, the second largest in Mesoamerica, shaped in the characteristic Oaxaca I configuration. Southeast of the ball court is Patio 4, consisting of four mounds surrounding a courtyard. A boulder sculpted in the form of a frog lies at the base of the east mound. At the courtyard’s center, a tomb was excavated; descend and explore its three greca-style, fretwork-decorated chambers.
If it’s not too hot, gather your energy and climb to the hilltop above the parking lot for a fine view of the ruin and the entire Valley of Oaxaca. The name for this prominence, the Citadel, probably was accurately descriptive, for Yagul’s defenders long ago added rock walls to enhance the hilltop’s security.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition