Greetings and salutations,
Welcome to the beautiful city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. This week I’ll take you on a bit of a tour in the downtown area of Old Santa Fe, where most of the action (tourist action that is!) takes place. It’s a good thing that all roads lead towards the Historic Plaza in Old Santa Fe as it is laid out according to the “Law of the Indies” established in 1571. The principle of this Law is that towns and cities were laid out around a central plaza. I didn’t get lost and found free parking at the New Mexico Visitor Information Center across the street from the State Capitol Building.
Just how old is Santa Fe you might be asking yourself? Well, the area has been occupied by indigenous people for thousands of years. It was in 1610, when Spanish colonists founded the city, making it the oldest state capital city in the US. It’s also the highest state capital at 7200 feet above sea level. So it has a long history with the United States taking official control after the Mexican-American War and Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo was signed. In 1912 New Mexico became the 47th state admitted to the United States. Santa Fe had been the center of government since the time of Spanish rule so it naturally was selected as the seat of government for the new state. Santa Fe is well know for it’s emphasis on history and the visual and performing arts. Tourism is a main source of income due to not only the arts but it’s mild, pleasant climate. And that mild climate was present the day of my visit!
After a quick stop to pick up a walking map at the visitors center, I made the very short walk to the San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the US. The earliest documentation of this church is from 1628 with oral history placing a church on this site in 1610. It has been restored and rebuilt several times over the intervening years. The current building dates from about 1710 (although the original 1610 foundation survives) with major restorations happening in the 1880’s, 1950’s, and most recently in 2010. It’s one of the best examples of adobe architecture in Santa Fe. Here are a few photos I took during my visit.
Nearby is what is said to be one of the the oldest buildings in the US (at least the one built by caucasians), the De Vargas Street House. Now a free museum (attached to a gift shop) it shows how close people lived in what we call the good old days! It’s worth a quick stop to at least say you’ve been in the oldest building in Santa Fe!
Just a block or two away, one comes across the beautiful, Loretto Chapel. It was once a Catholic church but is now privately owned and operates as a museum and wedding chapel. It’s best know for it’s “miraculous” spiral staircase. First a few photos then a legend about the building of the staircase.This staircase was built to access the choir loft, it has two full turns and is built without a center support or nails, held together by wooden pegs and glue. It is said to be a remarkable feat of woodworking, made without modern tools in the late 1870’s. It is said that present day master builders know that it took a great deal of complex math to build this 20 foot structure. The miraculous part of the story is that the architect who was building this church died suddenly without the staircase being built. The Sisters of Loretto who had commissioned the building of the church, prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the last day, a man mysteriously appeared and offered to build the staircase using only the simple tools available at that time. He worked in seclusion for an estimated 6-8 months and at it’s completion, disappeared before the Sisters could learn his identity. In the 2000’s, researchers through historical records believe they identified the builder, a Frenchman who was known to be an excellent carpenter. Regardless, it’s a good story and a beautiful work of art. Here are a few additional photos of the Chapel.
Even though it’s only a few blocks, I finally make it to the historic plaza. By plaza standards its not real big but then again it was laid out in the early 1600’s when not many people lived here. On one side of the plaza is the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building still in use in the US. The front portal is reserved for Native American artists and crafts people to sell their hand made art under a program that guarantees the authenticity of their products. They are there everyday from dawn to dusk except for major holidays. It was truly beautiful and well crafted work.
Walking around the plaza, I observed this fellow, Blue Beard I named him, decorated for something but very photogenic!
Then there was a group of people under the tutelage of an instructor doing plein air painting. This woman was working a piece of the nearby famous La Fonda Hotel.
A block over is the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s a popular attraction in Old Santa Fe and beautiful house of worship.
After photographing the Cathedral, I wandered around the gardens outside and checked out some of the historical statues in the plaza next to the church. Then I spotted this guy changing light bulbs on the street lights. Watching him was fascinating, I think mostly because he was doing the work and I was doing the watching!
On my way back to the State Capitol Building, I snapped a few photos of some of the scenes along the way.
The New Mexico State Capitol Building is the only “round” state capitol in the US. Informally, it’s call the Roundhouse. Built in 1966, it’s designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above, very similar to the design of the state flag. The building has four entrances so it’s important to remember which door you entered! The building has four stories (three accessible to the public) and houses all the heads of state government. To me the most intriguing part was that the halls are filled with works of art of all types; paintings, sketches, photos, sculptures and handcrafted furniture. Master’s from all cultures and historical periods are represented. The only photo I took inside the Capitol was of the rotunda depicted below.
There was also art works on the grounds surround the building. I found the following sculpture inspiring.
Below are a few photos of the outside of the building, the trees were in full bloom and smelled so sweet. It was windy so the blossoms blowing around looked a lot like a snowfall!
All too soon it was time to point my car northward to Taos to spend the next few days making photographs with my friends. I look forward to a return visit.
Up next week, the High Road to Taos.
Til then, travel safe.