Tom and I have visited all 50 states and been to all the state capitals – at least to drive through. Each one has its own flavor and personality. But Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is different from all the rest. We took a little time to explore Santa Fe while we were in the area.
Santa Fe has been continuously occupied as a town since 1100 AD. It is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the United State. New Mexico’s first colonial governor, Pedro de Peralta, designated Santa Fe the capital of the Kingdom of New Mexico in 1610, making it the oldest state capital in the United States. The full name of the City of Santa Fe remains “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís.”
As the capital of the New Spain, Santa Fe served as the seat of power for the Spanish Empire in North America. It briefly gained independence from 1680 to 1692 after the Pueblo peoples revolted and threw out the Spanish. After Diego de Vargas reconquered the city for New Spain in the late 1690s, it remained under Spanish rule for more than a century. Spain lost Santa Fe to Mexico in 1810, and then Mexico lost the city to the United States in 1848. So, not only is Santa Fe very old, it has also been the seat of government for four different nations.
Today Santa Fe is an interesting mix of ancient and modern. Historic downtown Santa Fe is eminently walkable, although traffic can be a mess. Tom and I parked in a church lot, paid $10 for the parking, and spent the afternoon walking around. The Plaza, in particular is a must-see. The Governors Palace on one side of the Plaza has been a government building since 1610. Native Americans had their crafts spread out on the open grass of the Plaza and the porch of the Governors Palace.
All the streets and most of the shops retain a Spanish flavor. Shops around the Plaza are arranged in little clusters. You walk down an alley into a small courtyard, and the shops in that area open onto the courtyard. Consequently most of the shops are small. There are lots of art galleries, jewelry shops, and high end specialty clothing shops. I found a weaving shop where they sold beautiful shawls and had the loom sitting in the middle of the shop. Food shops and restaurants dot the area and I especially enjoyed all the colorful dried chiles.
We explored the shops and I got turned around in a few of the courtyards but we could usually see the Plaza from wherever we were to get oriented. Tom and I visited the New Mexico History Museum and saw the New Mexico Museum of Art. We walked by the Georgia O’Keaffe Museum but didn’t have time to stop. You can easily spend several days just exploring the Art Museums and galleries in town. We visited Loretto Chapel with the famous staircase supposedly constructed by St. Joseph. We also saw the “oldest house in America” and the oldest church building in America. The house is built on the foundation of a Puebloan house from 1200 AD, although the house itself wasn’t built until 1646. San Miguel Mission was built in 1610 and has been used continuously ever since.
And all of this was in one afternoon! Obviously there is plenty to see and do in Santa Fe. The city is a nice size (about 100,000 people) and fairly easy to navigate. The roads downtown are narrow but there is plenty of parking and it is a good place to walk. Exploring the shops, restaurants, museums, and other historic sites could easily occupy a week – or a lifetime. A wonderful place to visit and probably a pretty good place to live.