Monte Albán was built over a period of over 2,000 years, starting about 900 BC, by the Zapotec people. The early art shows Olmec influence. The most impressive building period was during the Mesoamerican Classic era, from about 550 to 1000. About 1300 the Zapotec were driven out of the site and surrounding area when was conquered by the Mixtec people. The Mixtec made further additions to Monte Albán until they in turn were conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores in 1521, at which time Monte Albán was abandoned.
Engineer Guillermo Dupaix investigated the site in the early 19th century. J. M. García published an account of the site in 1859. A. F. Bandelier visited and published further descriptions in the 1890s. The first large scale archaeological project of the site was done in 1902 by Leopoldo Batres. 18 years of more extensive excavations were begin in 1931 under Alfonso Caso. Despite such detailed work, much of the large site has never been excavated.
Monte Albán has many step-pyramids, temples, elite tombs, and courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame. There is also free-standing sculptured stelae, and large bas-relief carved pannels in some of the buildings.
The site is a popular tourist destination for visitors to Oaxaca. The site has a small museum.