17. The Sun Temple

The Sun Temple is located in Mesa Verde National Park (Copyright 1999, Paul Logsdon). It is perhaps the most enigmatic of extant Puebloan buildings. The name was originally coined in view of the peculiar Sun-like design located on a boulder on the Southwest corner of the ruin. Its construction began in 1275, well after the Mesa Verde inhabitants had moved from the mesa top into their spectacular cliff dwellings. Based on the quantity of rubble removed during excavation, it is estimated that the walls of the Sun Temple stood 4 to 5 meters high. However, the lack of roofing timber in the ruin indicates that the building was never completed. It appears that construction simply stopped in 1276, when the Mesa Verdeans suddenly abandoned the area.

Southwest image
The Sun Temple, in Mesa Verde National Park (Copyright 1999, Paul Logsdon).

The bottom diagram on the slide is a schematic floor plan of the building. The main part of the building is D-shaped, and consists of a windowless double wall enclosing two circular tower-like rooms, in a very symmetrical manner. The West "annex" of the building contains many small rectangular rooms as well as two small circular rooms. Built on the mesa top at the confluence of Cliff and Fewkes Canyon, the Sun Temple stands at the heart of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, and was probably meant to serve as a ceremonial center for the surrounding population, estimated to number at least 600 in the thirteenth century. If so, it would represent the largest ceremonial structure ever built by the Anasazi. Whether the ceremonies taking place in the Sun Temple (if any) had anything to do with the Sun will remain forever unknown.