Column of Death – San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Mexico - Atlas Obscura

San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Mexico

Column of Death

A mysterious pillar in an ancient burial chamber is said to predict how long you have to live. 

The Zapotec archaeological area known as Mitla, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, was long said to be a city of the dead. Under a building in a section of the ruins known as the Columns Group, a network of tunnels was discovered that was used for ancient burials. Within the underground chamber is a mysterious column with a curious legend.

Legend has it the column was created for a ritual: hug it, and you’ll see how long you have to live. One version says that if you wrap your arms around the pillar and feel it move, you are going to die soon. Some people believe that if you hug the column a curse falls on you, because once you know how many years you have left, you can’t do anything to change them.

Luckily, or sadly, depending on your view, the column has become so damaged from all the people hugging it over the years that it is now off limits. But there are identical columns to hug all over the ruins complex.

This legend was born out of a place that has been associated with death for many years. The original name of the site was Lyobaa, a Zapotec word meaning “resting place.” The Mixtec people knew the place as Ñuu Ndiyi, “place of the dead,” and when archaeologists arrived from Mexico City they renamed the city with the Nahuatl name, Mitla, or “city of the dead.”

The truth is that today it’s impossible to know exactly what the ancient building was used for or what kind of rituals took place inside. The vestiges were mostly destroyed to fund Catholic chapels during the Spanish conquest, and all the history around this place disappeared, leaving just legends behind.