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Cliff Palace is one of the largest and most well-preserved structures of its kind in North America

David Goran

Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, but by far the most famous is the vast dwelling known as Cliff Palace.

Constructed between 600 and 1300 AD. it is the most extensive of the Mesa Verde ruins with about 150 rooms and more than 20 circular rooms.

Cliff Palace in 1891. Source

Cliff Palace in 1891. Photo Credit

 

Cliff Palace was first discovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason while out looking for stray cattle. Source

Cliff Palace was first discovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason while out looking for stray cattle. They continued to explore the Mesa Verde area because they realized the significance of what they had found Photo Credit

The structure was built by the Ancestral Puebloans, formerly known as the Anasazi, who had lived on the mesa tops of the Mesa Verde area for 600 years in the southwestern corner of Colorado, in the Southwestern United States. Cliff Palace was constructed primarily out of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams and the buildings originally ranged from one to four stories.

Cliff Palace was built inside an alcove in the cliff. Source

Cliff Palace was built inside an alcove in the cliff. Some of the buildings hit the natural stone ceiling. Photo Credit

The pueblans didn't have wheels or horses so they carried supplies by hand to build the structures. Source

Ancestral Puebloans occupied the Mesa Verde region from about 450 CE to 1300 CE. They didn’t have wheels or horses so they carried supplies by hand to build the structures. Photo Credit 

 

Traces of everyday life are still visible in the private residences and public spaces of the once-thriving village, from food preparation and storage to religious ceremony and defense. Source

Traces of everyday life are still visible in the private residences and public spaces of the once-thriving village, from food preparation and storage to religious ceremony and defense. Photo Credit

The sandstone was shaped using harder stones, and a mortar of soil, water, and ash was used to hold everything together. These stone and mortar buildings, along with the decorative elements and objects found inside them, provide important insights into the lives of the Ancestral Puebloan people during the thirteenth century.

Due to its location, it was well protected from the elements. Source

The largest pueblo on Mesa Verde, and the largest cliff dwelling. Due to its location, it was well protected from the elements. It also features some unusual structures, including a circular tower. Photo Credit

The square tower is the tallest structure at Mesa Verde standing at 26 feet tall, with four levels. The tower was in ruins by the 1800s but The National Park Service took over and restored it to its approximate height and stature, archaeologists are still uncertain as to the exact use of the tower.

In contrast, only about 125 people lived in Cliff Palace, the largest of the Mesa Verde sites. Source

In contrast, only about 100 people lived in Cliff Palace, the largest of the Mesa Verde sites. Living rooms in this site measure about 6 feet by 8 feet Photo Credit

There were about 100 people living in the community with 150 rooms and 23 kivas (round sunken rooms of ceremonial importance). A kiva typically had a wood-beamed roof held up by six support columns made of masonry above a shelf-like banquette.

Many visitors wonder about the relatively small size of the doorways at Cliff Palace; the explanation being that at the time the average man was under 5' 6, while the average woman was closer to 5'. Source

Many visitors wonder about the relatively small size of the doorways at Cliff Palace; the explanation being that at the time the average man was under 5′ 6, while the average woman was closer to 5′. Photo Credit

 

Closer view of the Cliff Palace Dwellings Source

Closer view of the Cliff Palace Dwellings. The entire structure is partitioned around one kiva (a round sunken room) Photo Credit

 

It is just one of the many incredible archaeological sites that are preserved at Mesa Verde National Park. Source

It is just one of the many incredible archaeological sites that are preserved at Mesa Verde National Park. Photo Credit

The entire structure is partitioned around one kiva, by a series of walls with no doorways or other access portals. Each living room might have been used by three or four people in a household. The population of Cliff Palace began migrating south by the late 1270s, and the village was abandoned by the year 1300. Some believe a series of megadroughts interrupting food production systems is the main cause.

Read another story from us: Visitors to the Lascaux caves do not see the genuine 17,000-year-old art, but a replica created to help protect the originals

Mesa Verde National Park was established to protect the cliff dwellings in 1906. Cliff Palace is a remarkable reminder of this land’s vibrant history, which goes back hundreds of years before European colonization.