Visit to Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
When I entered “Taos Pueblo,” a small village in the State of New Mexico, I felt like I was going back a few centuries through a time machine. Two years ago, I had the same feeling when I visited another Pueblo town. The Mesa Verde National Park, in the neighboring State of Colorado.
I was very excited to imagine the residents who had lived in these villages in a vast territory in Western North America since 1200 years BC. Their ancient ancestors were called Anasazi. They weaved baskets, did not know metals, and their rudimentary dwellings were dug into the ground.
In the case of “Taos Pueblo,” you don’t have to imagine their history because they are still alive to narrate it. When I arrived at the entrance of his village, I was greeted by my guide, a young high school student who would accompany me throughout the tour. The “Pueblo” ethnic group preserved its original language: Tiwa. In addition to Spanish, they also spoke English and maintained many religious and cultural traditions.
They, like all Native American groups, have a troubled history of extermination, pain, and tears. When the first Spanish conquistadors arrived from Mexico, they imposed their culture, language, and religion. “Taos Pueblo” has existed with the same structure that can be seen today. It is believed to have been built around AD 1000. It has been the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States since its founding.
Its architecture is based on square houses several stories high with flat roofs. They are single homes, one next to the other. They have shared broad walls made of adobe, some a few feet thick, and they help regulate the temperature in winter and summer. Its construction is based on simple materials. A mixture of mud, water, and straw is stored in large mounds to later use as stucco, cover and repair the walls, and make the communal ovens outside the houses.
Initially, the houses did not have doors or windows. They accessed them through the roof using ladders collected every night to protect themselves from enemies and wild beasts.
Currently, houses have doors and windows, but they keep ladders to allow access to the upper floors. Just a few places are occupied by inhabitants who take care of the town or sell crafts and freshly baked bread. They use neither electricity nor running water, carried from a stream that crosses the town and whose waters are protected from the source to guarantee their quality.
When I saw its architecture, I was convinced I was entering a fantastic place. The reddish color of its walls, the vibrant tones of its doors and windows, and the ladders scattered between the different levels create a unique and surprising place. I have never seen anything like it before. What a beautiful place!
We start the tour inside the Chapel of Saint Jerome, built-in 1850. They don’t allow photography of the interior so that I will describe it. Christian symbols are mixed with those of their indigenous traditions and their ancestral religion.
It is a small chapel with smooth white walls and about ten rows of benches on either side of a central aisle. It is illuminated by natural light through stained-glass windows and by altar candles. On the back wall, there are five blue niches of different sizes. The largest is centered with a Virgin Mary statue. She was initially called the “Conquistadora” (The Conquer) and is now called the “Virgin of the Peace.” Next are two small niches with images of Saint Jerome and two slightly larger ones. The one on the left has a female figure, and the one on the right has a Jesus statue. Around them are drawings of corn plants mixed with baskets of gourds, squash, vines, flowers, the sun, the moon, and paintings of the little angels and the Virgin Mary. Behind the altar are figures of indigenous people in their traditional costumes and Catholic saints.
The female figures in the niches and those of Saint Jerome were dressed in silk and lace. On the day of my visit, they were all dressed in white, but I could see from some postcards they had for sale that they were dressed in pink or light blue on other occasions. The dresses of the two female figures looked like wedding dresses due to the amount of lace and decorations. Still, at the same time, they were typical Spanish costumes due to the mantillas, the large combs, and the wide bolero skirts.
The original church was built in 1619 and was made of adobe blocks with a tall bell tower. In 1847, the United States Army bombed it in the Mexican War. Inside the church, all the town’s women and children had taken refuge and were killed. The ruins are still preserved as a memory of the massacre. The victims were buried in the cemetery surrounding the tower.
“Taos Pueblo” defines itself as a sovereign nation within the United States, which preserves its ancient traditions and culture. It is a place where history is alive.