Oaxaca (City)

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Oaxaca (City)

Oaxaca is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, located in the heart of the Central Valleys district, 328 miles southeast of Mexico City. In 2007 its population was estimated at 437,634.

Founded as a fort in 1486 by the Aztecs, Huaxyacac was resettled by a group of Spanish conquistadores who received title to it as the Villa of Antequera in 1528. However, Hernán Cortés continually disputed Antequera's legality, insisting that it fell within the domain of his marquesado del Valle. In 1532 Charles V decreed Antequera to be an independent city, but by 1560, it had only 500 Spanish and other inhabitants. Ten years later, construction began on the exquisite Santo Domingo church.

Antequera survived as an administrative center on the royal highway to Central America and as the center of a regional marketing system dating from the pre-Columbian period. As capital of the Intendancy of Oaxaca in the late eighteenth century, the city of Oaxaca ("Antequera" fell into disuse) grew dramatically as a result of textile manufacturing and the cochineal dye trade. José María Morelos established his government there for a few months during the struggle for independence, and in 1824 Oaxaca became the state capital. Its Instituto de Ciencias y Artes, inaugurated in 1827, educated many of Mexico's leading liberals, among them Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz. In 1955 the institute became the Universidad Autónoma "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca.

A cradle of Mexican liberalism, on 10 October 1872 Oaxaca affixed "de Juárez" to its name to honor the state's preeminent liberal. During the Porfiriato, the capital prospered from mining and coffee exports. The local merchant and landowning oligarchy intermarried with arriving foreign investors and their families to broaden its base.

In 1931 a brutal earthquake destroyed half the city, but most buildings (many of green limestone) were later repaired to restore Oaxaca's colonial splendor. A 1976 presidential decree declared the center of the city a national monument, and in 1987 the United Nations included Oaxaca in Humanity's Cultural Patrimony. Today it is a major center of tourism and distribution of indigenous artisanry.

In 2006, a series of strikes turned violent when peacefully protesting local teachers were forcibly removed from the city's main square by Oaxaca police. Some media reports claim that at least four people died in these clashes, although the Oaxacan government denies this. As of 2007 the teachers were still lobbying for better pay and a series of measures to help the city's poor students, and they are supported by a group known as the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), a coalition of union, women's, peasant and indigenous movements.

See alsoEarthquakes; Intendancy System; Mexico: The Colonial Period.


Jorge Fernando Iturribarría, Oaxaca en la historia. Mexico: Editorial Stylo, 1955.

John Chance, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978.

José Iñigo Aguilar Medina, El hombre y la urbe: La ciudad de Oaxaca. Mexico: Secretaría de Educación Pública, Instituto Nacional de la Antropología e Historia, 1980.

Additional Bibliography

Basques, Jeremy. Indians, Merchants, and Markets: A Reinterpration of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian Economic Relations in Colonial Oaxaca, 1750–1821. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Marcus, Joyce, and Kent V. Flannery. Zapotec Civilization: How Urban Society Evolved in Mexico's Oaxaca Valley. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Murphy, Arthur D., and Alex Stepick. Social Inequality in Oaxaca. Philadelphia: Temple University, 1993.

Terraciano, Kevin. The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahul History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

                                     Francie Chassen-LÓpez