Visit the culture of indigenous people - 2 : Montezuma Castle (Campo Verde, Arizona, USA)

Montezuma Castle stands beside the river in the plateau at an altitude of 1100 meters in the middle of Arizona.

It is the ruins of the Synaguan Tribe who started living in this place since the 5th century. The name derives from Spanish “Sin Agua”, that is, “Without Water”. It was named later and not the original calling. The origin of Montezuma Castle is associated with misunderstanding at the time of discovery as the place where the Aztec king of Mexico escaped.

The river has plenty of water so that it wouldn’t seem to have come through the arid zone while the forest of winding Arizona-Sycamore tree with impressive dotted barks of white and brown continues on the banks. Beyond the forest, limestone cliffs as high as 20 stories stand up like a folding screen, and a ruin on the hillside and another one at the feet remain.

I have no knowledge to judge whether this landscape is typical for an Indian village, but it seemed to me to be the origin.

The place was rich in food by the abundant water-based agriculture (corn, beans, pumpkin, cotton etc.) and the collection of the waterside plants, and the trees became the material for a roof. The cliff dwelling where the view was opened is easy to detect intruders and the change of natural phenomena since it was protected behind by rocks, so it was perfect for external attacks. It is an ideal place that skillfully combined each advantage of plains and cliffs. The trade network that connected various tribes overthrows the undeveloped society that I imaged for North America before Columbus arrival.

A firm residence is left on the side of the cliff. It is a five-story building with a height of 12 meters and a length of 27 meters utilizing a hollow of a cliff. A wall that piled up a limestone was covered with dirt, then Arizona-Sycamore's beams were extended over the wall and covered with a roof. All entrances is likely to have been installed on a roof and they went in and out by a ladder.

The method to built a house using a stone and dirt is similar to that in the villages on Hopi's plateau such as Oraibi or Walpi.

Oraibi constructed in the middle of the 12th century is the oldest existing village in the United States. Meanwhile, Montezuma Castle was constructed in the 13th century. The village in the era of the ruins has been succeeded to the present in the world’s leading developed country, the United States. Depending on viewpoint, that might be very sustainable.

By around 1425, the Synaguan Tribe disappeared suddenly. The reason and as to where they went are uncertain, but the Hopi legend seems to suggest that the Synaguan Tribe had joined their land.

To Japanese Version

Google Maps

1.5 hour by car from downtown Phoenix.
1 hour by car from Flagstaff.

National Park Service

Luna Vista Bed and Breakfast

Comfort Inn
Days Inn Camp Verde

"Ancient architecture of the Southwest" (William N. Morgan, Univ of Texas, 1994)
"The Southwest" (Steven L. Walker, The Camelback Group Inc,, 2009)
"Indians of American Southwest" (Steven L. Walker, The Camelback Design Group Inc + Canyonlnads Publications & Indian Art, 1994)

2018.01 Photos and text in English version and Japanese version


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Montezuma Castle (5th century - 15th century) 

Photo by Daigo Ishii