Tuesday 7 August 2012

Postcard from Santa Fe

Santa Fe montage
Santa Fe as we know it was founded by the Spanish in the 17th century, the town still preserves some of the adobe buildings dating from this period. Spanish rule was not untroubled, with a revolt in 1680 by the local population. The Spanish brought priests with them, with the intention of converting the locals. Adobe churches in the area are some of the earliest and most striking monuments to this, their distinctively styled exteriors married to lively painted interiors. The area contains the earliest buildings erected by Europeans in the USA. Santa Fe's history changed in the mid 19th century when the are was annexed by the United States and became a territory.

Full statehood was not achieved until 1912, but from 1846 onwards the Territorial style developed in Santa Fe buildings with the adobe structures gaining brick facades. It was Santa Fe's rather special architectural characteristics that were preserved when the town was rediscovered in the 20th century. Though much of the building around the town centre is 20th century it all preserves the essential characteristics of the original Santa Fe. This style, known as Pueblo Revival. From as early as 1912, town planners were keen to ensure the harmonious feel of the town.

Unlike some other towns in the area, the railroad did not bring great expansion, Santa Fe was not on the main line; instead it was artists who were attracted, thus creating the lively feel which the town preserves.

The old town is centred around the plaza in front of the Palace of the Governors, this building was originally erected by the Spanish and the layout of the area owes much to the principles by which the Spanish erected their colonial towns. It was work on restoring the Palace of the Governors in the early 20th century which fed into the movement which created the Pueblo Revival style of architecture, with its use of flat roofs, exposed beams and stuccoed walls smoothed to resemble adobe. One of the ironies of this style is that it is used to create buildings which are far bigger than anything that might have been imagined in the 17th century. (In this respect the style resembles Victorian Gothic, in that both take a known historical style and then use the principles to create something new).

The local culture blends the various influences into a distinctive mix, just as the original Pueblo Indians blended elements of the original indigenous religion into the Christianity brought from the West. Native America craft is still highly important, with items ranging from the usual tourist trade to serious art for collectors. This culminates in the annual Indian Market which takes of the whole of the centre of Santa Fe and brings collectors from all round the world..

Inevitably commercial pressures and the need to service the modern day tourists, have made the town more conventional, more commercial than it used to be. For those with time to travel, then spending some time in Taos, a small town just to the North of Santa Fe, is to be highly recommended. Based around a 17th century fort, the town has a more casual feel to it, more resembling the Santa Fe of the past.

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