The Arbol del Tule is a 2000 years old cypress with a 14.36 meters diameter trunk; just so you can imagine how wide the trunk is, think of 30 people holding hands with their arms wide open forming a circle. It has the stoutest trunk in the world! In 2001 the UNESCO placed it on a tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
It is more than 40 meters high and it can be seen from miles away. It is so large that originally it was thought that there were multiple trees giving the impression of being one, but studies have proven that it’s only one.
There is a Zapotec legend that says that Pechcha, a priest of Ehecatl, the God of Wind, planted the seed in this sacred place to please the god. After the arrival of the Spaniards, the church of Santa María del Tule was built on that same sacred place.
The word Tule means “Tree of Enlightenment” but it’s sometimes nicknamed the “Tree of Life” because of the animal forms that can be found on its trunk. As part of an official project in local schools, children guide tours around the trunk showing and explaining all manners of animals, creatures, body parts, faces and objects that the trunk features. This is the fun part of the visit, trying to see these forms and finding new ones. Some of the kids kind-of-speak english, or at least they try, they’ll learn words (“crocodile” “lion” “head”) to show you those forms for a little money. They are so fun to hear too!
The second Monday of October is the “Arbol del Tule Day” and a big party surrounds the tree. Fireworks, music, dances and masses are dedicated to the ancient, sacred and amazing Tule.
Santa Maria del Tule is 13km from Oaxaca City, on the road to Mitla, and it’s a beautiful place to visit. Besides the Tule, there are many crafts from the region, Oaxacan food, regional costumes and an always lively square filled with music and people.
[photos courtesy of Nsaum75, SanGatiche, bordenphoto and fer tapia]