Oaxaca’s main square, officially called the Plaza de la Constitucion, but commonly referred to as the zocalo, is the heart of the city. This tree-filled plaza has numerous cafés and restaurants under the arcades. Balloon vendors, musicians, locals, and tourists of all ages congregate in this lively plaza. In the evenings you can enjoy concerts performed by the Oaxaca state band, mariachi or marimba music or performances from touring musicians.
Consult your Oaxaca city map and you will see that the layout of the zocalo and surrounding buildings follow the colonial town plan which dictated that the city should have a central plaza with buildings representing the religious and civil authorities surrounding it.
Oaxaca’s Palacio de Gobierno is located to the south of the zocalo. Historically this building functioned as city hall, but in 2005 the government offices were moved to other premises and it was converted into the Museo del Palacio. Inside, in the stairwell leading to the second floor, fine murals by Arturo Garcia Bustos depict the struggles in Oaxaca during the historical periods of the conquest, independence, and the Mexican Revolution.
To the north of the zocalo you will find the Cathedral of Oaxaca, fronting the Alameda de Leon, another shady plaza where you can get a free Oaxaca city map. The cathedral went through several construction periods and was consecrated in 1733. It is built of green volcanic stone with a fine baroque façade depicting the Assumption of Mary. The cathedral's cupola and twin bell towers are rather squat in order to withstand the frequent earthquakes that have historically caused damage to Oaxaca’s colonial buildings. The cathedral has a basilica style floor plan and 14 side chapels. Inside you'll find an impressive collection of 16th and 17th century paintings.
The zocalo is the ideal place to begin your exploration of Oaxaca. Find a table at one of the many surrounding cafes and restaurants, order a refreshment and watch the life of the city unfold before you.