The Cliff Palace in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park is a part of a wider network of stone dwellings that the Pueblo people ingeniously built during the 12th century
Mesa Verde, which translates as ‘green table’ in Spanish, is the biggest archaeological preserve in the US.
The ancient sites inside the 52,000-acre national park in Colorado were home to Puebloans, Native Americans of the south-west US, who during the 13th century chiselled entire villages out of the side of cliffs.
They did not leave behind any writings but the archaeological remains and oral stories passed down the centuries has meant researches have been able to piece together what life was like for them back then.
At some point in the late 1190s the Anasazi people, a Navajo word for those who lived in the Mesa Verde region, moved from living on the top of cliffs to the bottom of them inside the deep natural alcoves.
Puebloans are Native American Indian people specific to south-western US (Image: Getty Images/RooM RF)
In 2011, researchers noted that the area had cold, snowy winters that led to some extended periods of drought during the summer period.
However, the harsh environment was met with “resilience” by the people.
The dwellings they built ranged from one-room granaries, which made up about three quarters of the site’s buildings, all the way up to entire villages spanning 150 different rooms.
The cliff dwellings were deserted by its inhabitants around 1300 possibly due to droughts and violence
The construction of these structures were continually evolving and changing for almost one century.
By 1300 the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were abandoned by the Anasazi, possibly due to the effects of drought and even violence, and the stunning site fell slowly into disrepair over the centuries.
However, it was rediscovered in 1880 and, after some initial looting of the site, the Mesa Verde area was tuned into a national park in 1906 and preserved for future generations to wonder at the ingenuity of ancient Puebloans.
Some of Cliff Palace’s room can only accessed by a ladder – the same way the ancient residents used to enter them (Image: Mark Newman/ The Image Bank RF)
Mesa Verde National Park houses many man-made structures but its most famous relic is the Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling in North America – that around 100 inhabitants live in and took 70 years to complete.
It is believed to be a village that was well protected from the elements and used for social and administrative purposes and also with high ceremonial usage thanks to its 23 kivas (special subterranean rooms designed for ritual use).
A mixture of mud and stone mortar was used to build the village and many walls were decorated in multi-coloured murals of red, yellow, pink, brown and white plaster – some of which have survived.
Visitors today can access some the rooms in the same way as when they were first built – through the roofs via a retractable ladder – for an authentic experience of what life was like among the cliff dwellers back then.