Cloud people. That is how the people of the Southern highlands of central Mesoamerica were called when they inhabited the place from about 500 BCE – 900 BCE. Zapotec people have a long history in what is Mexico today and established their capital first at Monte Alban, later relocating it to Mitla. These people had a big influence around that time, but today there are only a few who remain living like the community did earlier on. These are people who live in Mexico in an enclosed community, speaking an entirely different language from the outside world. How come they survived so many generations?

Granted, the Zapotecs actually do speak Spanish very well. Most Zapotec people are bilingual and very skilled in both languages. The Zapotec language, however, is just as intriguing as their history. It is spoken by roughly 450,000 people in the area, and an interesting thing is that it is similar to the romance languages due to it being very extensive and close-knit. However, because of this, there have been many dialects of Zapotec language, resulting in not many Zapotec groups actually being able to understand the other group. This is mostly due to their location and occasionally mixing in other languages.

Their origins come from agricultural communities which grew up in the valleys in and around Oaxaca. Due to establishing good trade links, they managed to build an impressive capital site at Monte Albán for the Zapotec to dominate that region during the Classic period. Over centuries, three distinct groups emerged from the Zapotec people: the Valley Zapotec, these people were based in the Valley of Oaxaca. In addition, the Sierre Zapotec, these people were based in the North. And last but not least, the Southern Zapotec, based in the south and east.

During this time, Zapotec cities already showed that they were highly sophisticated in architecture, arts, writing and engineering projects. An example could be the Hierve el Agua, artificially terraced hillsides irrigated by extensive canals that were fed by natural springs.

After so much success, why is the Zapotec community not well known in today’s world? The reasons for the collapse of the Zapotec civilization is not quite known, there was not even a trace of violent destruction. However, the site remained significant to the later Mixtecs using it as a sacred ground and burial for their own kings. To this day, Zapotec people still exist, but in much smaller numbers at Mitla, or how they call it: Lyobaa (Place of Rest). They seem to continue living their lives without the influence of the outside world and are not planning on changing that anywhere in the near future.


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Interesting Facts about the Zapotec Language – Network Languages. (n.d.). Network Languages.

Zapotec | people. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica.