There is no place like Santa Fe.
You’ve never seen anything like this before. A combination of altitude, desert, and pueblos has produced a magical city that bears little resemblance to nearby Albuquerque or anywhere else for that matter.
Santa Fe is the most exotic place you can visit without crossing an ocean. The secret is in its history, the blending of three cultures—Pueblo Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo.
Santa Fe is the United States’ longest continuously occupied state capital. Located high and dry in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this well preserved center of Southwestern art and architecture attracts visitors with its galleries, cuisine, and play of light on its adobe buildings.
Santa Fe is referred to as “the city different,” a city that honors its Pueblo Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo heritages and embraces its natural environment unlike any other in the United States. A city whose beautiful, brown adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape and a city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals.
The history of Santa Fe is a long and rich one. Occupied for many centuries by Pueblo Indians, the Spanish conquistador Coronado claimed this land for Spain in 1540. Recaptured by the Pueblo Indians for over a century, the Spanish again took over the region in 1692 and Santa Fe developed and grew. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in the mid 1800s and with the advent of the Santa Fe Trail, American traders, trappers, and pioneers began to settle in the area.
In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado charged north from Mexico with 300 soldiers in search of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. What he found was Zuni Pueblo, which he promptly conquered. Thus began some 200 years of alternating strife and precarious calm between the two cultures, a time marked by repeated Pueblo revolts that drove the Spanish from the area only to see them return with more soldiers and repressive measures. By the mid 1700s there existed a greater respect between the two peoples. Catholic and native religions existed side by side and the Spaniards and Pueblo people fought together against the encroaching French and Pawnees.
The Spanish brought irrigation in the form of acequias—canals that still functions today—farms, cattle, sheep, and orchards. They practiced silver and goldsmithing, woodworking and weaving—crafts carried on today by their descendants. And in 1610, a decade before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they laid out the Santa Fe Plaza and began building the Palace of Governors. Today this is the oldest continuously occupied building in the US.
In 1821, the year that Mexico celebrated its independence from Spain, American trader William Becknell drove a wagon laden with goods into Santa Fe, making it the western terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Americans traders and settlers soon entered the area. One of the most famous was Kit Carson who for 42 years called Taos his home.
The US was eying the territory for western expansion and in 1846, President James K. Polk declared war on Mexico. All of New Mexico was vanquished—bloodlessly—by 1,600 soldiers under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearney.
The influx of artists was the finishing stroke. What drew them here? Everywhere you look there’s a painting awaiting a canvas. Joseph Henry Sharp is usually given credit for starting the art boom who in 1883 spent the summer painting in Laos. Other artists and writers filtered into Santa Fe-Taos area including Will Shuster, Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Mary Austin, and the woman perhaps most associated with New Mexico art, Georgia O’Keefe.
To know the history of Santa Fe is to enhance your visit—the City Different is a confluence of its storied past and vibrant present. The 400 year-old streets now glitter with galleries, shops, and restaurants.
There is so much to do and see that it is impossible to do it all in a few days or even in a few weeks.
Walking the streets of this charming city, evidence of the early Spanish influence is apparent in the historic missions and houses. But where to start?
And that my friends, is the subject of another post.
I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever….The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning sunshine high over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend….In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.