North House, Taos Pueblo
The Taos Pueblo in New Mexico has been inhabited for one thousand years. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structures are maintained today by the Taos Pueblo Indians and open to the public but restricted to visiting hours and only certain of the structures. Early photos from the late 1800’s show people swarming all over the structures but today, fortunately, it is not even permitted to climb the ladders.
We arrived early and only two other cars were in the visitor’s lot. There is an entry fee and another fee if you want to carry your camera in, and an admonishment not to take pictures of any of the Taos Indians without their permission and then to tip them. Tipping struck me as condescending so there are no people in any of my photos. Visitors are not permitted beyond the walls of the Pueblo or into the residential spaces.
Section of South House
The doors you can see on all three levels are recent additions–entry used to be from roof tops. Some of the rooms at ground level are open now as artist studios. We talked to a few of the artists who were “open” in the early morning. Some were just setting up in the center of the Pueblo. They were selling jewelry, dream catchers, drums, and ceramics but I was disappointed. When we were there about fifteen years ago, we bought a remarkable mask from a woman who is a famous ceramicist. I didn’t see any clay figures or pots to compare with her work. And the jewelry looked the same as what is available in the Taos Plaza and in other gift shops.
San Geronimo Church
They were repainting the San Geronimo Church. It had a new coat of white paint and the wood was being re-stained. The church is very important in the Pueblo. Originally built in 1619 by the conquering Spanish, it was destroyed in the Pueblo revolt against the Spanish in 1680, rebuilt in 1706 when the Spanish again ruled. It was again destroyed, except for the bell tower, in the U.S. war with Mexico in 1847.
San Geronimo Church
The present church was built in 1850 and is a prominent feature of the Pueblo incorporating both the Catholic religion and native values. Because of the painting, we could not go inside. The church is a Registered National Historic Landmark.
The structures are of adobe and are constantly repaired. The only water in the sacred village is from The Red Willow Creek which runs through the middle of the pueblo separating it into north and south houses.
Red Willow Creek
No electricity is permitted within the pueblo. Traditional teachings and the language, Tiwa, are not written but passed on orally only to tribal members. One young man told us his grandfather spoke the language but he did not.
Round dome ovens are still used for cooking and making bread. One artist told us he always cooks his meat in his. You can see the dome oven in the photo above of the section of South House. Bread is usually for sale but we were too early for it, although I could smell it baking as we left.
I thought at first that the dome ovens were kilns, but the meat-cooking-artist said, no. Ceramics are fired in pits with the wood placed on top over the clay objects. Some pots have beautiful smoke traces across the clay. The mask we bought years ago has a smoke scar across the eye and nose. Very effective.
You can stand in the center of the Pueblo and look at both the north and south structures. You can also go behind the main north structures to see the Catholic cemetery and the remains of the bell tower of the 1847 church. I didn’t take a picture of the cemetery but I did take one of the alley between two structures. You can see the adobe and why it needs constant repair.
Alley Taos Pueblo
It’s always a challenge to appreciate the preservation of very old structures, imagine how they looked in historic content, and separate that image from what we see as tourists.