Mitla mētˈlä [key] [Nahuatl,=abode of the dead], religious center of the Zapotec, near Oaxaca, SW Mexico. Probably built in the 13th cent., the buildings, unlike the pyramidal structures of most Middle American architecture, are low, horizontal masses enclosing the plazas. Wall panels, decorated with hard stucco and intricate mosaics, show more than 20 different patterns of a single motif—the stepped spiral representing the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl. With its subterranean chambers and passages decorated by fine frescoes, Mitla is thought to represent the highest expression of Zapotec architectural talent, although the mosaics have been attributed to the Mixtec, who conquered Mitla as well as Monte Albán. See pre-Columbian art and architecture.

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