In a real sense, Mitla  lives on. The ruins coincide with the present town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla, whose main church actually occupies the northernmost of five main groups of monumental ruins. Virtually anywhere archaeologists dig within the town they hit remains of the myriad ancient dwellings, plazas, and tombs that connected the still-visible landmarks.
Of the five ruins clusters, the best preserved is the fenced-in Columns Group. Its exploration requires about an hour. The others—the Arroyo and Adobe groups beyond an arroyo, and the South Group across the Mitla River—are rubbly, unreconstructed mounds. Evidence indicates the Adobe and South groups were ceremonial compounds, while the Arroyo, Church, and Columns groups were palaces.
Although the Church Group (marked by the monumental columns that you pass first on your right after the parking lot) has suffered from past use by the local parish, it deserves a few minutes’ look around inside. It consists of a pair of regal courtyards, labeled A and B, adjacent to the triple red-domed 16th century church.
You first enter courtyard B, enclosed by monumental stone-framed doorways. A passageway leads to smaller courtyard A, where you can see the fascinating remnants of the red hieroglyphic paintings of personages, name-dates, and glyphs that once covered its walls.
Back outside, on the main entrance path, continue past the tourist market and through the gate to the Columns Group. Inside, two large patios, joined at one corner, are each surrounded on three sides by elaborate apartments. A shrine occupies the center of the first patio. Just north of this stands the Palace of Columns, the most important of Mitla ’s buildings. It sits atop a staircase, inaccurately reconstructed in 1901.
Inside, a file of six massive monolithic columns supported the roof. A narrow “escape” passage exits out the right rear side to a large patio enclosed by a continuous narrow room. The purely decorative greca facades, which required around 100,000 cut stones for the Columns Group complex, decorate the walls. Remnants of the original red and white stucco that lustrously embellished the entire complex hide in niches and corners.
Walk south to the second patio, which has a similar layout. Here the main palace occupies the east side, where a passage descends to a tomb beneath the front staircase. Both this and another tomb, beneath the building at the north side of the patio, are intact, preserving their original crucifix shapes. (The guard, although he is not supposed to, may try to collect a tip for letting you descend.) No one knows who and what were buried in these tombs, which were open and empty at the time of the conquest.
The second tomb is similar, except that it contains a stone pillar called the Column of Life; by embracing it, legend says, you will learn how many years you have left.
The interesting Church Group (notice the church domes) is on the far north side of the Palace of Columns. Builders used the original temple stones to erect the church here. On its north side is a patio leading to another interior patio surrounded by another greca-decorated palace.