The city of Oaxaca (formally Oaxaca de Juárez, in honor of the 19th-century national hero Benito Juárez, who was born in the nearby sierra, became governor in 1847 and ultimately president of Mexico in 1861) is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of the same name. It is also nicknamed “la Verde Antequera” (the green Antequera) due to its former name (Nueva Antequera) and the variety of structures built from its native green stone.
In 1987, UNESCO declared Oaxaca City and nearby archaeological site Monte Albán cultural heritage sites, due to their architectural treasures, both colonial and pre-Hispanic.
Oaxaca City is located in the Valley of Oaxaca in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains near the geographic center of the state, and at an altitude of about 5000 feet. This ensures an extremely pleasant climate throughout the year, with an average of 300 sunny days per year.
The area is known as the three “Valles Centrales” (Central Valleys) region and is surrounded by thick forests of pine and holm oak. The important Monte Albán archaeological site is close to the city. As of the 2005 census, the official population of the city was 258,008 people. Including its surrounding municipality, the total rises to 265,033. However, the Oaxaca metropolitan area, which includes seventeen different municipalities, had a population of 500,970 inhabitants. Oaxaca municipality has an area of 85.48 km² (33 sq mi).
Some of Oaxaca’s most celebrated tradition events are the Guelaguetza (native arts and dance festival), Day of the Dead and the Night of the Radishes.
There had been Zapotec and Mixtec settlements in the general area of the modern city of Oaxaca for thousands of years, in connection with the important ancient centers of Monte Albán and Mitla. The area was conquered by the Aztecs in 1486 who named it Huaxyácac, which means “above the place of gourdes”. The colonial city, however, dates from 1522, when Spanish settlers who had followed Hernán Cortés’s conquistadores successfully petitioned the Queen of Spain for a grant of land. They had already founded a city in the neighborhood, under the name of Nueva Antequera, on the basis of a charter from King Carlos V of Spain, but Cortés had sought to have the entire Valle de Oaxaca declared as part of his personal marquisate, and to have the settlers removed. The Queen’s charter, however, secured the townspeople’s rights.
Most of the important buildings are within this central area.