‘Castle’ in the air

Cliff dwellings although not common, existed worldwide, some of them, like the ones in Cappadocia, Turkiye are now converted to hotels where the curious tourist can experience cave-dwelling or the one in Tunisia that is still occupied by Berbers. People chose to call these high-above-the-ground alcoves home for various reasons – a ready-made shelter that provided safety from flooding rivers below and wild animals, persecution, and a place of storage.

En route to Sedona from Phoenix, we stopped at Montezuma castle which was once-upon-a-time the living quarters of the Southern Sinagua people. Many Native American clans and communities (Hopi, Yavapai, Hohokam, Hakataya and others) trace their ancestry to these people. Hopi and other Natives who weighed in on the research and restoration of these dwellings are of the opinion that these dwellings were to go back to earth once the people left. 

Holes on the cliff face are residential alcoves

Montezuma Castle is actually a misnomer. Early archaeologists mistook these dwellings to be of Aztec origin and named them after an Aztec prince Montezuma; it is no castle in the air either, but more an apartment. These are natural holes or recesses in the limestone cliff face. Montezuma Castle is 5-storey high and made of twenty rooms, 100 feet above the valley. The large recesses were homes, the smaller ones were shelters and storage units and they were interconnected. Montezuma Castle and other similar dwellings were in use from around 1100CE to 1400CE. These dwellings are mostly found near rivers and streams. The Southern Sinagua people were hunter-gatherers who farmed and hunted to supplement their diet. 

The alcoves are high above the ground

Montezuma Castle is one of the best-preserved prehistoric structures. No one knows why people moved away from here.

Can you see the different floor levels?

Even today, the traditions, oral histories and stories bind the clans who trace their origins to the people that occupied Montezuma Castle and other nearby settlements in Montezuma Well, Tuzigoot and other neighbouring areas of Verde Valley.

A pictorial representation of a room in the castle

The Visitor Centre on location encapsulates life in a dwelling and about the surrounding geography. Montezuma Castle is only a short detour from the Phoenix-Sedona route and well worth your time providing a quick avenue to know more about Native Americans.

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