Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico, is the only living American Indian community in the United States that is designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Taos Pueblo is the best-preserved Indian pueblo in the United States and is the longest continuously inhabited community in North America, occupied for more than 1,000 years. It is one of the “eight northern pueblos” of New Mexico, and the collective collaborates on craft fairs, advocates for the legal interests of the pueblos, and shares rich and ancient cultural and spiritual connections.
Archaeologists contend that the main part of the present Taos Pueblo buildings were likely constructed between 1000 and 1450. What the first Spanish explorers saw when they arrived in northern New Mexico in 1540 is very similar to what visitors to the pueblo see today: four-story adobe structures (adobe is made of earth mixed with water and straw which is then poured into brick shapes and sun dried) built in two main complexes—Hlauuma (north house) and Hlaukwima (south house). The Spanish believed Taos Pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola, legendary places of impossible riches that the conquistadors were committed to finding. They weren’t wrong about the pueblo being legendary, of course.
The pueblos were constructed with considerable architectural expertise and breathtaking effort. The walls of Taos Pueblo are all several feet thick, the roofs of each of the five stories (including the cellars) are held by huge timbers that were hauled down from mountain forests. The roofs were then covered with packed dirt. The outside of the structures have to be continuously maintained; the Taos Indians must regularly re-plaster the outside surfaces with thick layers of mud, while the interior walls are painstakingly coated with thin washes of white earth, keeping them clean and bright. The pueblo is said to be America’s oldest apartment complex. It is made up of individual homes that were built side-by-side and stacked in floors, one atop another. Walls are shared but each dwelling is a separate home with a private entrance. This wasn’t always the case, however: in the past the individual homes had no doors or windows and entrance to the complex was only accessible from the top of the pueblo.
Today, approximately 150 Northern Tiwa-speaking Taos Indians live within the pueblo year-round, while scores of other families owning homes in either the North or South buildings live in summer homes near their own fields. There are also modern homes outside the old walls but still on pueblo land. The Taos Indians are primarily Catholic, but they continue to practice ancient Indian religious rites at the pueblo, creating a complex and hard-to-categorize spiritual life in the larger village, which has both a Catholic church and kiva.
Visitors to Taos Pueblo can take in all this incredible living history for $10 a day, with discount rates for students, groups, and no fee at all for children under the age of 10. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., save for when tribal rituals necessitate the pueblo to be closed to visitors. The pueblo closes for about 10 weeks from late winter to early spring.
For more information on visiting Taos Pueblo, call 575-758-1028, or visit TaosPueblo.com.
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