Ex-Monastery of Santiago Apóstol – Cuilapam de Guerrero, Mexico - Atlas Obscura

Ex-Monastery of Santiago Apóstol

This exquisite example of early colonial architecture remains unfinished almost 500 years after construction began. 


Less than seven miles south of the historic Centro area of Oxaca de Juarez is an equally historic but often overlooked masterpiece of workmanship—though it was never really finished.

Four Dominican Monks started construction on Ex-monastery of Santiago Apóstol in the 1550s. However, the complex’s planned grandeur was cut short. Work on the site stopped by 1650 due to construction costs and a loss of local labor.

Despite its incompletion, the site has been a convent, monastery, school, government office, prison, and cultural centerpiece of the Village of Cuilapam de Guerrero. Some areas, such as the monastery and the church inside the compound, were actually completed. The roofless basilica still contains murals that combine Roman Catholic iconology with Mixtec and Zapotec mythology. The cloister is still well preserved, offering a glimpse into multiple architectural styles.

Additionally, there are INAH offices throughout the complex, giving you a glimpse of ongoing archaeological work from around the Central Valley.

Know Before You Go

Getting to the Monastery is a quick ride from Central de Abastos, or you can catch a bus (only 7 pesos) at the bus station at Calle Bustamante #601. Look for any bus that clearly says Zaachila on the front. It will take you through the Village of Xoxo toward the Monastery, which you really cannot miss. When done with your visit, you can jump on the same bus, in the same direction to get back to Oaxaca.

Plan on spending a few hours here. Walking shoes are advised.  There are uneven stone steps, so take care when exploring. There is a 45 peso (approximately $2.50 USD) fee at the entrance to the cloister.

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