Bright colors, festive music, and delicious smells greet me as I step into the plaza. An old man in a serape leans down and speaks in Spanish to a young boy, who is showcasing his wooden handicrafts here in the shadow of a centuries-old cathedral. A woman flips fresh corn tortillas on a hot griddle over an open fire. No, I haven’t traveled back in time. I’m not even overseas or south of the border. I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the annual Spanish Market.
Santa Fe is a city known for its strong culture and deep roots. My experience in the city was no exception: I had only to look around to see the strong Spanish influences in art, cuisine, and architecture. For instance, most of the buildings in Santa Fe are made of adobe, reddish-brown clay that is replastered every year. Set against the brilliant, cerulean-blue New Mexico sky, the adobe buildings lend a unique feel to Santa Fe: where else in America can you find a city that has not changed its architecture for 400 years?
The people of Santa Fe proudly display the artifacts of their heritage in their many museums. I visited the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, whose collections are the most comprehensive compilation of Spanish Colonial art. I loved its colorful retablos, or religious images painted on carved wood, and was inspired to make my own.The Palace of the Governors, located on The Plaza, is New Mexico’s state history museum. It includes artifacts that help tell the story of New Mexico’s past. I was struck by the history that had occurred here: the museum building itself was established and partially destroyed in the Pueblo Riots of 1680.
Santa Fe’s museums also represent New Mexico’s diversity, as is evident in the Georgia O’Keefe Museum (which houses the largest collection of works by Georgia O’Keefe in the world), and in Canyon Road, which is not a single museum but the second-largest art market in the nation, with over 100 art galleries. Canyon Road attracts thousands of talented artists a year, adding to the city’s already-thriving culture.
One of my favorite places to visit in Santa Fe was El Rancho de las Golondrinas, located on the outskirts of the city. It is the “Colonial Williamsburg” of Spanish America, a living history museum that allows 21st-century visitors like me to immerse themselves in the day-to-day life of Colonial Spanish settlers of the early 1800s. At Las Golondrinas, I got to experience some of the hard work the early Spanish settlers did daily, including grinding dried corn between rocks to make flour, spinning wool into yarn, and placing hot coals inside a beehive-shaped horno, or oven, all while dressed in period clothing.
Twice a year, the city of Santa Fe hosts the Spanish Market, an open-air festival that celebrates its colonial culture. Hundreds of artists and craftspeople sell their traditional handicrafts, ranging from woodcarvings, tinwork, musical instruments, and statues to embroidery, weaving, jewelry, and straw appliquÃ©. My favorite part of the market was the time I spent with a 12-year-old artist selling his amazing crosses made using the art of straw appliquÃ©. After receiving a crash course, I made my own cross, which is now hanging on my bedroom wall. Every time I look at it I am reminded of my time in Santa Fe.
As my stay in New Mexico drew to a close, I felt I had not only visited another modern American city, but encountered a culture that would remain a part of me always. The legacy of Santa Fe’s Spanish Colonial roots lives today in its people, culture, and way of life. New Mexico may be part of the United States, but it truly is a whole different country.
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