Taos Pueblo Traditional Architectural Beauty

Taos Pueblo traditional architectural beauty is a remarkable example of a traditional type of architectural ensemble from the pre-Hispanic period of the Americas and unique to this region which has successfully retained most of its traditional forms to the present day. Thanks to the determination of the latter-day Native American community, it appears to be successfully resisting the pressures of modern society. The culture of the Pueblo Indians extended through a wide geographical area of northern Mexico and the south-western United States.

Taos Pueblo traditional architectural beauty
Continent: North America
Country: United States of America
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (IV)
Date of Inscription: 1992

Taos Pueblo

Taos is the best preserved of the pueblos north of the borders defined by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). Located in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, Taos comprises a group of habitations and ceremonial centres (six kivas have been conserved), which are representative of a culture largely derived from the traditions of the prehistoric Anasazi Indian tribes who settled near the present borders of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.

Taos's modest rural community appeared before 1400, characterized by common social and religious structures and traditional agricultural practices. In the modern historical period the two major characteristics of the Pueblo civilization were mutually contradictory: unchanging traditions deeply rooted in the culture and an ever-constant ability to absorb other cultures. Their faculty for acculturation gradually began to appear following the first Spanish expedition of the Governor of New Galicia, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, in 1540-42.

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo traditional architectural beauty

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The entire 18th century was a time of wars in which Taos played an important part in resisting the colonizers. The breeds of cattle and types of grain were introduced by the conquerors into their agricultural system. Attempts to convert the Pueblos to Christianity were ill-received but unconsciously the religious mentality of the people changed.

Taos Pueblo shows the traditional method of adobe construction: the pueblo consists of two clusters of houses, each built from sun-dried mud brick, with walls ranging from 70 cm thick at the bottom to about 35 cm at the top. Each year the walls are still refinished with a new coat of adobe plaster as part of a village ceremony. The rooms are stepped back so that the roofs of the lower units form terraces for those above. The units at ground level and some of those above are entered by doors that originally were quite small and low; access to the upper units is by ladders through holes in the roof. The living quarters are on the top and outside, while the rooms deep within the structure were used grain storage. The roofs are made from cedar logs, their ends protruding through the walls; on the logs are mats of branches on which are laid grasses covered with a thick layer of mud and a finishing coat of adobe plaster. It is a massive system of construction but one well suited to the rigours of the climate.

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In 1970 the people of Taos obtained the restitution of lands usurped by the government, which included the sacred site of the Blue Lake. At the same time, their ritual ceremonies include both a Christmas procession and the Hispano-Mexican dance of the Matatchines.

The two main adobe building complexes retain their traditional three-dimensional layout. Certain features, such as doors and windows, have been introduced over the last century. Taos Pueblo represents a natural evolutionary process: it has adjusted to a changed social and economic climate and reflects the acculturation of European traits and the relaxing of needs of defensive structures.

Administration of Taos Pueblo is vested in the Taos tribe, which is deeply conscious of its heritage and of the material expression of that heritage in the buildings of the settlement. The pueblo of Taos has tended to become a seasonal habitat reserved for ceremonial functions and tourist attractions.

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