Santa Fe Tour: Walking back in time- part two, around the Plaza

This Santa Fe tour of the historic Plaza area is part two of a series on self-guided walks through the historic part of Santa Fe Read part one and part three.

The Cathedral

Santa Fe tour: St. Francis Basilica Sant Fe is home to La Conquistadora the oldest statue of Virgin Mary in the USA photo Steve Collins

St. Francis Cathedral Basilica has a lot of history photo/Steve Collins

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was built in 1869 at the behest of Archbishop Lamy, later memorialized by Willa Cather in her classic novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. The building is a blend; traditional elements found in a Catholic church meld with uniquely New Mexican touches. The Stations of the Cross are done as retablos (devotional paintings). Bultos (carved saints) are on altar and around the church. The Cathedral is home to La Conquistadora (also known as Our Lady of the Rosary), the oldest statue of the Blessed Virgin in the US. She arrived in Santa Fe in 1625. At the time of the Pueblo revolt of 1680, she was rescued from the burning church when the Spanish fled and joined them in exile. Her return to Santa Fe with the triumphant Spaniards in 1691 is celebrated each year as part of the Santa Fe Fiesta. She’s an articulated saint, meaning her arms and legs move and she has a wardrobe for all occasions. As you enter the cathedral, look up. At the top of the arch there’s a triangle containing the Tetragrammaton (Hebrew for God). Santa Fe’s Jewish community contributed to the building fund and asked for this in return.

Sena Plaza

Santa Fe Tour: The courtyard at historic Sena Plaza photo Steve Collins

The courtyard at historic Sena Plaza photo/Steve Collins

Next on your Santa Fe tour, head for historic Sena Plaza building directly across from where Cathedral Place ends at East Palace Avenue. The property was granted to Spanish Army Captain Arias de Quiros in 1693 to honor his service in the 1692 reconquest of New Mexico. In 1776, prosperous merchant Don Juan Sena and his wife inherited the property and built a modest adobe home on the site. In the 1830’s Sena and his son, Captain Don Jose Sena, began to expand the structure. The resulting thirty-three room house accommodated the Captain, his wife, their twenty-two children and various members of their large extended family. The Territorial-style building, built around a lush courtyard is currently home to boutiques, eateries, a wine shop and offices.

Heading west on Place Avenue, you’ll pass 109 East Palace Avenue. This hidden office was where physicists and others attached to the top-secret Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during World War II were checked-in before undergoing the long, mostly dirt-road journey into the mountains.

The Historic Santa Fe Plaza

Santa Fe tour: Santa Fe Plaza on a summer day, photo Steve Collins

Santa Fe Plaza on a summer day, photo/Steve Collins

The Santa Fe Plaza, at the end of the historic Santa Fe Trail, is a registered National Historic Landmark. As early as 1610, it was the gathering place in town. Today many events take place in and around this square. The obelisk in the center, constructed in 1868, has created controversy in this multi-cultural town. The original inscription read “To the heroes who have fallen in various battles with savage Indians in the Territory of New Mexico.” It has since been changed; “To the heroes who have fallen in various battles with Indians in the Territory of New Mexico.” During the summer, the Plaza buzzes with events including free concerts, Spanish Market, Indian Market and various other events.

The Palace of the Governors

American Indian craftspeople gather under the portal at the Palace of the Governors the oldest continuously occupied government building in the USA daily to sell their wares. Photo Steve Collins

American Indian artisans selling their wares under the portal at Palace of he Governors,  photo/Steve Collins

The Palace of the Governors on the north side of the Plaza is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the US. Built in 1610, it has been a history museum since 1909. In the 1870s, territorial governor, Lew Wallace, wrote part of his famous novel Ben Hur at the Palace, the governor’s residence at the time. Today, Native American artisans sell their wares daily under the building’s portal. The Palace is part of the  New Mexico History Museum. Opened in May 2009 it’s adjacent to the Palace of the Governors, one admission gets you into both. The permanent exhibit, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now, is a linear walk though time that will give you a fantastic sense of the rich history of the state, from the original Pueblo peoples to life in the 21st Century. The museum also hosts changing exhibits.

The New Mexico Museum of Art

The New Mexico Museum of Art on WestSanta Fe Tour: Palace Avenue in Santa Fe was built in 1917 is an exxmple of pueblo revival architecture. It's home to the St. Francis Auditorium. Photo/Steve Collins

The New Mexico Museum of Art on West Palace Avenue photo/Steve Collins

The New Mexico Museum of Art, located on Palace Avenue, down the street from the Plaza was built in 1917. It was designed around a interior courtyard by the architecture firm, Rapp and Rapp. The design derived from the New Mexico Pavilion they created for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. The courtyard walls are decorated with frescos painted by renowned Santa Fe Artist Will Shuster as a WPA project in the 1930s. You can visit this and other WPA projects on a self-guided tour.  Shuster is best-remembered as co-creator of Zozobra (Old Man Gloom), the giant puppet that goes up in flame every year at Fiesta de Santa Fe. According to the museum’s website, the building established the Pueblo Spanish Revival style that Santa Fe is known for. The museum’s permanent collection includes works by well-known New Mexico artists, including members of the Taos Society of Artists, Santa Fe’s Cinco Pintores and Georgia O’Keeffe. The Museum’s Saint Francis Auditorium is used for concerts throughout the year. It’s one of the venues for the annual New Mexico Chamber Music Festival.

This is the second part of the historic downtown Santa Fe walking tour. Read Part One and part three: Canyon Road .

If you are interested in a private tour of the the historic Plaza area, Canyon Road or any other place in Santa Fe, our travel planning and tour business, The Santa Fe Traveler can  design a personalized for you.


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4 Responses to “Santa Fe Tour: Walking back in time- part two, around the Plaza”

  1. Ted Nelson
    February 14, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    I have always wanted to read Willa Cather. This article will help bring context to her story and make me get to the library and check out that book.

  2. Billie Frank
    February 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    I read it years ago and read it a second time. It is clear it’s time for a third reading. I had not idea about Lamy until I moved here, the book was very abstract for me.

  3. Charles Higgins
    February 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Great historical perspectives here..and brings back Plaza memories ( the few that I canm recall)..


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