Unfinished Ex-Monastery of Cuilapan, Oaxaca

In my mind, Oaxaca is a gift that keeps on giving. I barely even touched the surface of the state and but in the time I was there, I found so many different things to see and do. I experienced traditional ceremonies, did some hiking, saw pyramids, played in mineral water, and admired a two-thousand year old tree. I also got to visit an unfinished monastery. Okay, okay – that may not have sounded as cool as an ancient tree or some pyramids but this place was actually awesome especially because I enjoy architecture and photography.

The Cuilapan de Guerrero Santiago Apóstol Dominican Monastery Church and Archaeological Ruins is located in Cuilapan, Oaxaca, about 10km south of Oaxaca City. The area has been settled since about 500 BC. Construction started on the monastery in the 1550s and it was charged with the purpose to convert everyone the monks could get their hands on. By the 17th century, the whole region underwent a decline in local population and so the monastery wasn’t ‘useful’ anymore. Despite never having actually been finished being built, the Dominican monastery was essentially abandoned and left to deteriorate by the 19th century. It is now a national monument administered by the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia.

I loved wandering around the complex. When I went, it was beautifully quiet on a cloudy day with the exception of a few other people. Walking the length of the uncovered basilica and all its arches was rife with opportunities to stimulate the imagination. The rock that makes up the monastery is a beautiful green-tinged stone. There were many wide hallways and with it being so quiet, dramatic echoes follow you if you’re wearing clomp-y shoes. It’s good to wear clomp-y shoes as it scares away the ghosts. Really. See the white spot in the picture below. Not dust – ghost.

Some of the artwork remains on the walls and some religious artefacts can be admired, such as the intricately carved baptismal font. There was a well in the middle of a cloister that, for some odd reason, really delighted me. Sad to say but I really enjoyed photographing it… I also enjoyed all the open doorways throughout the complex – I felt like Ang Lee and now kind of understand his obsession with framing things in a doorway.

Question: What is your favourite monastery / convent that you’ve visited?

4 responses to “Unfinished Ex-Monastery of Cuilapan, Oaxaca

  1. For a place that’s ‘unfinished’ it’s pretty swanky looking! There’s even a good amount of detail remaining. How close to being finished was it?

    I think I’ve seen that picture of the two facing benches with the window behind them in one of your photo challenges, it’s an amazing picture. I’m also a little enthralled by that well, too! I love in your picture how you can see the ‘spokes’ in the paving stones around it, it gives the photo a really nice balance!

    • Not sure how much more needed to be done… But yeah, the picture with the benches by the window is one of my favourites from the whole Mexico trip!

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