In 1540, 67 years before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia and 80 years prior to the landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, the Spanish explorer Coronado was exploring what would become New Mexico, claiming her and her inhabitants for the Spanish Crown. With him, and in subsequent expeditions into the frontier, came Franciscan friars, whose charge was to lead as many of the natives as possible into the service of the church, and a number of settlers who would build a new empire by harvesting the efforts of the people and the land. The land wasn’t as giving as Coronado might have hoped, and eventually, in 1680, the indigenous peoples revolted against Spanish rule. Spanish settlement had, in fact, created more friction between the tribes, since harvests were given to the church and king, there was no food to trade amongst the indigenous peoples. Starving, and enslaved, the native people wanted no more of Spanish compassion. After the Pueblo Revolt, the Palacio Real or Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe was turned into and lived in as a pueblo for 13 years until de Vargas returned in 1693!
The resulting architecture became fortified, and was designed only to provide shelter. Any buildings that were built were supplied by either what could be obtained in the immediate vicinity or on the twice-annual wagon trains that arrived from Chihuahua, Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. There was no money, as was copious in California or Texas, to do elaborate Mission Style churches or homes. There was no police force, no ruling authority, and for many years, nowhere near enough clergy to tend to the needs of the people, hence the evolution of the Penitentes, and the other major Hispanic contribution to New Mexican culture – cultural artifacts including santos, bultos, and retablos. By all accounts, New Mexico was still very much a “frontier.” From the mid-16th century through the late 19th century, the predominant architectural style in New Mexico was referred to as Spanish Colonial.
The Hacienda was the ideal form for its day - built around patio with portal around the inside or across one end of enclosure. The hacienda had very limited exterior openings which also caused somewhat of an interior focus. The Saguan, a covered room with a large gate on the outside face and an opening into the courtyard at the inside, allowed livestock and wagons inside in case of attack. The Spanish Crown had rules for size and shape of all elements. (i.e. patios had to be rectangular.) Elaborately carved woods and colorful paint at ceilings, arches, between rooms, or over doorways was usually reserved for the interior for maintenance reasons.
Taos, then called Don Fernando de Taos, was officially set up as a township sometime between 1780 and 1800, in the heyday of this period.
Click here to see a list of traits of Spanish-Colonial Architecture
Some of Taos' best examples of Spanish Colonial Architecture include the Martinez Hacienda west of town on Ranchitos Road, the abandoned Torreon at El Meze restaurant north of town, the Church of San Francisco south of town at Ranchos de Taos, the Blumenschein home on LeDoux Street, and at La Loma plaza west of the Taos plaza. In a wall at what is now the Alley Cantina, two of the town’s original buildings’ walls support new additions.