Secular Spanish Colonial Architecture

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Secular Spanish Colonial Architecture


Style. In addition to building Indian missions, the Spanish colonists in New Mexico also built permanent settlements for themselves. The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the oldest public building in the United States. A classic example of Spanish-Pueblo style, it was built in 16101611 shortly after the governor of the colony, Pedro de Peralta, founded Santa Fe as the capital, replacing Juan de Oñates first capital in San Gabriel. Located on the main plaza of the colonys capital, the palace became the official seat of the New Mexican government and governors residence. The organization of the walled town around a main plaza had its origins in Spanish city-planning designs. During the 1680 Pueblo Revolt the palace served as a fortress to protect the Spanish settlers.

Palace of the Governors. Like the New Mexican missions, the Palace of the Governors was built of adobe by Native American labor. A series of wings organized around interior patios, its block-long facade, originally four-hundred-feet long, faced the plaza. A covered walk supported by wooden columns and brackets ran the length of the south portal. Typical of adobe architecture, it had few windows. In its original state residential rooms and the chapel were located in the east end. The west end housed the soldiers guardroom, stables, armory, and a jail. From 1912 to 1914 the building was extensively remodeled. A new portal and corner torreones, or towers, were added. Nevertheless, the Palace of the Governors is one of the best preserved Spanish colonial buildings in the United States and retains much of its original aspect.

Mexico City. Although located on the fringe of the Spanish empire, Santa Fes governors palace adheres to the standard Spanish plan for palace architecture of wings organized around open patios. A similar arrangement can be seen in the monumental Governors Palace of Mexico City, which dates from the same period. In contrast to this classical stone structure Santa Fes Palace of the Governors displays the hybrid Pueblo-Spanish architectural style typical of New Mexico.

Rebellion. The Palace of the Governors is most famous for its role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680, the most successful indigenous uprising in North America. This well-organized rebellion, led by the San Juan medicine man Popé, united nearly all the Pueblos in a well-orchestrated attack on the Spanish colonizers. When the revolt began on 10 August 1680, more than one thousand Spanish fled to the palace and were besieged once inside. When it was over, six days later, not a single living Spaniard was left in New Mexico. All Spanish settlers and friars were killed or were forced to retreat to El Paso del Norte (today Ciudad Juárez, Mexico). The Indians destroyed all Spanish homes and most churches (Ácoma being the most significant exception), killed all the friars, and firmly rejected Catholicism. Popé declared all Catholic marriages dissolved, ordered all baptisms to be washed off, and rejected all Christian names. Spanish ceased to be spoken. The Pueblo Indians then assumed control of the palace and occupied it for twelve years, turning it into living quarters. They made the chapel into a kiva.

The Reconquest. The Spanish were kept out of the region for twelve years, until 1692, when the reconquest of New Mexico began under the leadership of Diego de Vargas Zapata Lujan Ponce de León. He and his forces arrived in Santa Fe in September 1692 to find the Pueblos living in the palace. The Spanish besieged the palace, forcing the Pueblos to evacuate. The Spanish reconquest of the rest of New Mexico was accomplished quickly, largely due to Native American infighting. The Pueblos had suffered severe drought and Apache raids in the preceding twelve years.


E. Elizabeth Boyd, Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1974);

Bainbridge Bunting, Early Architecture in New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976);

Mary Grizzard, Spanish Colonial Art and Architecture of Mexico and the U.S. Southwest (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1986);

Trent Elwood Sanford, The Architecture of the Southwest: Indian, Spanish, American (New York: Norton, 1950);

Marcus Whiffen and Frederick Koeper, American Architecture, 16071860, volume 1 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).

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Secular Spanish Colonial Architecture

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