Santa Fe, New Mexico… The City Different

Written by on November 13, 2009 in NM Cities, Dining, Lodging - 1 Comment

Santa Fe, New Mexico, earned the nickname “The City Different” due to its unique architecture, as well as for its long and varied history. The name Santa Fe means “holy faith” in Spanish. The meshing of many cultures have given Santa Fe a distinct and beautiful appearance, and much of Santa Fe’s attractiveness arises from its setting in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

A Long and Bloody History

Thirteen years before Plymouth Colony was settled by the Mayflower Pilgrims, Santa Fe, New Mexico, was established with a small cluster of European style homes. It would soon become the seat of power for the Spanish Empire north of the Rio Grande. In 1598, the first governor, Don Juan de Onate, established the capital at San Juan Pueblo, 25 miles north of Santa Fe. Don Pedro de Peralta succeeded him as Governor-General in 1609 and he moved the capital to the present day site of Santa Fe in 1610.

Since then, Santa Fe has had a long and somewhat bloody history. The city has been the capital for the Spanish “Kingdom of New Mexico,” the Mexican province of Nuevo Mejico, the American territory of New Mexico (which contained what is today Arizona and New Mexico) and since 1912 the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe, in fact, was the first foreign capital taken over by the United States, when in 1846 General Stephen Watts Kearny captured it during the Mexican-American War.

The first bloodshed began early in the city’s history. Other people had claimed the land long before the Spanish arrived on the scene. For nearly 550 years, the site was home to a number of Pueblo Indian villages — mostly the Tewa people. When the Spanish arrived, the Pueblo Indians were displaced to accommodate Spanish missionaries, public officials and settlers. For many years, the Spanish attempted to conquer or convert the Pueblo people, unsuccessfully. The Native American population of the area was estimated at close to 100,000 people, and who lived in an estimated 70 multi-storied adobe towns (pueblos), many of which exist today. In 1680, the Pueblo Indians revolted, killing nearly 400 Spanish colonists, burning every building except the Palace of Governors, and driving the rest of the settlers back into Mexico. Santa Fe came back into Spanish hands in 1692, when Don Diego de Vargas re-conquered the region and entered the capital city after a bloodless siege.

From 1692 – 1821, the city grew and prospered. In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and Santa Fe became the capital of the province of New Mexico. American trappers and settlers immediately began moving into the area, following the wagon trail from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe.

In 1846, during the early stages of the Mexican-American War, General Stephen Watts Kearny took Santa Fe and raised the American flag over the central plaza. Two years later, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ceding New Mexico and California to the United States.

For a few days in 1863, the Confederate flag flew over the capital, until Union troops liberated the city. And finally, in 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state in the Union.

With the coming of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad and the invention of the telegraph in 1880, Santa Fe and New Mexico underwent an economic revolution. As a gateway city to the West, businesses boomed and died. Such rapid growth also brought with it crime and corruption. In fact, the state grew so corrupt that President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Lew Wallace as a territorial governor to “clean up New Mexico.” Wallace did such a good job that Billy the Kid threatened to come up to Santa Fe and kill him.

Modern-Day Santa Fe

With a population of 70,000 primarily Hispanic, Anglo and Native American people, Santa Fe, is New Mexico’s fourth largest city. Today, Santa Fe is recognized as one of the most intriguing cities in the nation, thanks in part to the preservation of many of its historic buildings, as we as to modern zoning codes with accounts for the city’s distinctive Spanish-Pueblo style of architecture. This architecture is based on the adobe (mud and straw) and wood construction of the past. Also preserved are the traditions of the city’s rich cultural heritage which helps make Santa Fe one of the country’s most diverse and interesting places to visit.

Santa Fe’s location in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (elevation 7,000 feet) ensures it has a mild climate. Winters are pleasant, with day-time highs usually in the 40s. Some years the city receives little or snow, while in others, large storms can dump a foot or more of snow all at once. Spring is dry and moderate in temperature. Summer temperatures in June and early July are in the 90s before the Monsoon season begins. Then tremendous thunderstorms build up over the mountains and cool the afternoon temperatures down. Fall is wonderful, with dry weather, clear blue skies, sunny days and crisp, cool evenings. In short, it’s a wonderful place to visit year around.

There are dozens of hotels, motels, inns, bed & breakfasts and rental vacation homes to choose from when visiting Santa Fe. If fine dining is your thing, you are in luck — Santa Fe offers an enormous range of cuisines, from Italian to Southwestern, Thai to Vegetarian. As a modern-day Mecca for artists and craftsman, Santa Fe also offers some amazing shopping opportunities! The outdoor activities in the area are tremendous — hiking, biking, camping, fishing, balloon rides, horseback riding, river rafting and so much more.

Santa Fe is a fine place to base your exploration of the Southwest. Nearby attractions within an hour drive include Petroglyph National Monument, Pecos National Historic Park, Bandelier National Monument. Within a two to three-hour drive, visitors can reach Chaco Culture National Historic Park, El Malpais National Monument, El Morro National Monument, and Fort Union National Monument.

See our Top 10 Things to do in Santa Fe, New Mexico for more fun ideas.

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