Mexico continues to retain a flourishing tradition of artisans working in a range of arts and crafts to produce an infinitely rich variety of folk art, rugs, basketry, woodwork, ceramics, textiles, toys, tinwork, lacquerware, masks and so much more. The woollen woven rugs from Oaxaca are distinctive in their quality, craftsmanship and design. Surrounding the city of Oaxaca in the Valles Centrales are a host of artisan villages each specialising in a different craft. The village specialising in weaving is called Teotitlan del Valle, and the tradition of making rugs, sarapes and blankets here, harks back to pre-Hispanic times when Teotitlan had to pay tributes of cloth to the Aztecs. Rugmaking is a cottage industry with the whole of an extended family working at the looms using traditional dyes made from indigo and cochineal. Weavers at the workshops are very happy to demonstrate their techniques from spinning the raw wool to showing how complex designs and images are created.
The rug pictured in the centre above takes its inspiration for the design from the stonework of a nearby archaeological site called Mitla. Not nearly as well known as the site of Monte Alban in the region, Mitla is distinguished by beautiful stonework mosaics in strong geometric patterns. Mitla was at one time the most important of Zapotec religious centres, and dates from 300 years prior to the Spanish conquest. The Patios de Mosaicos feature fourteen different geometric designs symbolising the feathered serpent Quetzlcoatl, the sky and earth, and other beings from the realm of Nature. It is a small and quiet site with a very tranquil atmosphere making it well worth a visit.
Oaxaca is east of Mexico City and takes 6 hours to reach by road. First class buses frequently leave Mexico City's TAPO bus station, and the journey costs 750 pesos return ( $75 ). Mitla is 75 minutes and Teotitlan is 45 minutes east of the city of Oaxaca, and both can be easily reached by a local bus from the second class bus station. Alternatively, it is possible to take a half day tour (186 pesos/$20 ) from one of the city travel agencies (eg Marfil near Plaza Santo Domingo ) which includes a visit to a weaving workshop at Teotitlan, a guided tour of Mitla, plus a quick stop at El Tule to see the tree which is reputedly " el mas gordito en el mundo " ( the fattest tree in the world ). This ahuehuete ( type of cypress ) indeed sports an impressive girth of 58 metres. One of the most reasonable places to buy Oaxacan rugs in the city, is a cooperative store called "Casa de las Artesanias" which stocks pieces from family workshops and craft organisations, and is conveniently located right in the centre at Matamoros 105 ( Mon-Sat 9am - 9pm, Sun 10am - 8pm).