Around La Plaza


Palace of the Governors

Santa Fe's old central plaza is still the focus of town life, especially during the annual Indian Market on the weekend after the third Thursday in August, when buyers and craftspeople come from all over the world, and during the Labor Day weekend for the Fiestas de Santa Fe. 


Apart from an influx of art galleries and stylish restaurants, the web of narrow streets around the plaza has changed little through the centuries. When the Yankees took over in 1848, they neglected the adobes and chose instead to build in wood, but many of the finer adobe houses have survived, thanks in part to a 1930s preservation campaign. Since then almost every non-adobe structure within sight of the plaza, even the downtown Woolworth's, has been designed or redecorated to suit the city-mandated Spanish Revival mode, with oddly sloping, rounded, mud-colored plaster walls supporting roof beams made of thick pine logs (called vigas). Santa Fe today, in fact – at least at its core – looks much more like its original Spanish self than it did a hundred years ago.

The main focus of the plaza, and the principal model for Santa Fe's revived architectural unity, is the Palace of the Governors, which fills its entire northern side. Part of the Museum of New Mexico, this low-slung and initially unprepossessing structure is actually the oldest public building in the US. Originally sod-roofed, it was constructed in 1610 as the headquarters of Spanish colonial administration; the name may now seem misleadingly grand, but the building was once much larger. The well-preserved interior, organized around an open-air courtyard, holds excellent displays on New Mexico's history, plus photos that show that until 1913 the palace itself looked like a typical, formal, territorial building, with a square tower at each corner. Its subsequent adobe "reconstruction" was based on pure conjecture. The arcaded adobe veranda along its front, offering protection from both sun and wind, serves as a market for local Native American crafts-sellers.

Just west of the palace, the Museum of Fine Arts is housed in a particularly attractive adobe, with ornamental beams and a cool central courtyard. It's also one of the few major art museums to be established by artists, as opposed to educators or collectors, and focuses on changing exhibits of contemporary painting and sculpture by mostly local artists. The showpiece new Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, a block northwest at 217 Johnson St, opened in 1997, with ten galleries housing the largest collection of O'Keeffe's work in the world. Pieces range in date from 1914 – thus pre-dating her exposure to New Mexico, though a 1915 rendition of Palo Duro Canyon in Texas hints at the abstractions to come – up to 1982. Among the sun-bleached skulls and iconic flowers sold in print galleries throughout the Southwest, some less familiar New York cityscapes make a surprising contrast. Most of the desert landscapes were painted near Abiquiu, forty miles northwest of Santa Fe, where O'Keeffe lived from 1946 until her death in 1986.

Across the tiny Santa Fe River to the southwest, three blocks along Guadalupe Street, you'll find a less celebrated but equally attractive little district, centered around the small but beautiful Santuario de Guadalupe (May–Oct Mon–Sat 9am–4pm; Nov–April Mon–Fri 9am–4pm; donation). Complete with a fine Baroque reredos (altarpiece), the shrine was built at the end of the eighteenth century to mark the end of the Camino Real highway from Mexico City. Old warehouses and small factory premises nearby, such as the Sanbusco Centre on Montezuma Avenue, have been converted to house boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.

Follow the river upstream, or walk two blocks east from the plaza, and you approach a building, strangely out of place among Santa Fe's earthy adobes, looming at the top of San Francisco Street. St Francis Cathedral, the first church west of the Mississippi to be designated a cathedral, was built in 1869 by Archbishop Lamy. French-educated Lamy, the title figure in Willa Cather's novel Death Comes for the Archbishop, commissioned the building in the formal – and, frankly, dreary – Romanesque style popular in France. The nearby Loretto Chapel, a block away at the start of Old Santa Fe Trail, is known for its so-called "Miraculous Staircase", an elegant spiral built without nails or obvious means of support. During construction, the church's designer is said to have been killed by Lamy's cousin, so that for years there was no way up to the choir loft. According to legend, an unknown carpenter arrived in answer to the nuns' prayers, built the stairs and then disappeared.

Two blocks south, across the river along the Old Santa Fe Trail, is the ancient San Miguel Mission (Mon–Sat 10am–4pm, Sun 2–4.30pm). Only a few of the massive adobe internal walls survive from the original 1610 building, most of which was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The chapel is the heart of the old Barrio de Analco workers' district, whose many two-hundred-year-old houses now form one of Santa Fe's most appealing residential neighborhoods.

Not far away to the east, gallery-lined Canyon Road – which stakes a claim to being the oldest street in the US, dating from Pueblo days – climbs a steady but shallow incline along the river bed and is lined by dozens of fine adobes.


 La Plaza Classifieds

The Palace of the Governors











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