The Dominicans were the predominant monastic order in colonial Oaxaca, and the crown jewel of the string of monasteries that they built throughout the region was Santo Domingo. The church and monastery were begun in the 1500s. Work continued for 200 years, and it became one of the most extravagantly Baroque churches in all of Mexico.
The most ornate of the church's chapels is the Rosary Chapel.
The former Dominican monastery, a huge building adjoining the church, is now the Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca. It is one of the finest museums in the country outside of Mexico City.
The colonial architecture of the former monastery is outstanding, and the building in itself is worth the visit.
The exhibits in the museum cover the entire history of Oaxaca from its earliest prehistoric inhabitants to the present day.
The museum displays artifacts from the ancient Zapotec civilization.
The highlight of the museum is the room displaying the treasures of Tomb 7 from Monte Albán. In 1932 archaeologist Alfonso Caso discovered an intact tomb at the ruins of the Zapotec city of Monte Albán. It was one of the greatest finds in Mexican archaeology. The Mixtec tribe, which invaded the Valley of Oaxaca after the abandonment of Monte Albán, reused the tombs of the old Zapotec city to bury their own nobles. The Mixtecs were skilled craftsmen, and Tomb 7 contained objects of jade, turquoise, alabaster, and gold jewelry.
This small pendant of the god of death is an exquisite but eerie masterpiece of the goldsmith's art. It is the most famous object in the museum.
Outside the museum the former monastery garden is now the Ethno-Botanical Garden. It was created in 1994, and displays the biodiversity of the different regions of the state of Oaxaca, from the tropical humid coastal areas in the south, to the desert areas of the north. It contains more than 1000 species of plants, some of them endangered, which are native to Oaxaca. Although we did not visit the garden (guided tours are only offered at certain times of the day), we had some nice views of the garden from the terraces of the former monastery.