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All about Lambityeco, its mighty royals, rain god, and amazing art

The Zapotec city of Lambityeco dates to the late classical period and is known for its extraordinary artworks, including stucco masks and tombs.

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The entrance to the ruins of Lambityeco in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The Zapotec city of Lambityeco dates to the late classical period and is known for its extraordinary artworks including stucco masks and tombs.

A stucco mask depicts the Zapotec rain god Cocijo. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The site itself does not seem all that large, but appearances are deceiving. Only two of nearly 2,000 structures have been excavated. Several unrestored monuments can to this day be found in surrounding fields, but the vast majority have been reduced to piles of rubble or completely destroyed.

The landscape surrounding Lambityeco is dominated by mezcal plantations and fields full of large wild cacti. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The name Lambityeco is Zapotec in origin, though its meaning is a topic of debate with scholars translating it as either “the still mound” or “hollow hill.”

Geometric designs such as those found at other Zapotec sites including Mitla and Monte Alban can also be seen at Lambityeco. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

On the other hand, it is often argued that the name Lambityeco should only really apply to the area of the site visible today, as it was part of a larger kingdom known as Yeguih.

The area surrounding Lambityeco had been occupied by Zapotec peoples as far back as 1500 BCE but did not reach its zenith until the 5th century. But like virtually all settlements of the last classical period onwards, the remains of Lambityeco demonstrate a high degree of influence from other cultures, mainly the Mixteca. 

One of several royal tombs found at Lambityeco dates to roughly the 6th century CE. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The ruins of Lambityeco are divided into two main plazas, with the complex nearest to the highway being the larger of the two.

An aerial view of Lambityeco shows its two main sections, with large portions covered with a metallic structure to protect the artworks within. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

Structure 195 is made up of a sizable patio with an altar and a steep staircase leading up to a ceremonial platform which shows signs of considerable looting. 

Patio behind structure 195 at Lambityeco Oaxaca. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Behind this large structure are the remains of up to five elite burial sites, including that of the Coqui, or great lord of the city, as well as his ancestors.

One notable feature of the tombs of Lambityeco is that noblemen and women appear to have been buried together in close proximity to the resting places of their ancestors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Directly behind Structure 195 is Structure 190, which features beautifully preserved stucco rain god masks of the Zapotec deity known as Cocijo. 

Aside from being the god of rain, Cocijo was also the deity of thunder and lighting in the Zapotec pantheon. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Because this region of Oaxaca can be arid, it makes sense that so much attention would be paid to the rain god Cocijo. This is especially true when we consider the Zapotec reliance on crops like beans and maize. 

A section of Lambityeco’s Lintel 1 shows a bearded figure holding a stone staff in a position that resembles swimming. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Architecturally, Lambityeco is quite interesting for several reasons, not least among them the wide array of building materials used in its construction, including volcanic stone, adobe, and mortar. 

The use of adobe in the construction of interior corridors is extremely common in Zapotec sites, but virtually unheard of in several other Mesoamerican cultures like the Olmec or Maya. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Getting to Lambityeco from Oaxaca city is easy, as the site is only 20 miles away. It is possible to use public transit on the way to the nearby town of Tlacolula, but you are probably better off taking a taxi. Driving through the mountains in Oaxaca can be hazardous, so it’s a good idea to refrain from renting a car. 

A map shows the location of Lambityeco to the east of Oaxaca de Juárez in southern Mexico. Photo: Google

Lambityeco is also close to several other Zapotec ruins including Yagul, Dainzu, and Mitla, so you may want to negotiate a day rate with a local driver. 

A road sign points the way to Lambityeco from across the highway. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine.

One issue you may run into when visiting archaeological sites in Oaxaca is that custodians are often not exactly on time. Sites are supposed to open no later than 10 but often don’t show up until noon or not at all. Unfortunately, there is not much to be done about this and you just have to test your luck and hope for the best. The entrance to the site is 85 pesos. 

A view from Lambityeco one morning in early November. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
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