Montezuma Castle National Monument

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Montezuma Castle National Monument
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Montezuma´s castle in Arizona
Map showing the location of Montezuma Castle National Monument
Map showing the location of Montezuma Castle National Monument
Location Yavapai County, Arizona, USA
Nearest city Flagstaff, Arizona
Coordinates 34°36′47″N 111°50′24″W / 34.61306°N 111.84000°W / 34.61306; -111.84000Coordinates: 34°36′47″N 111°50′24″W / 34.61306°N 111.84000°W / 34.61306; -111.84000
Area 859.27 acres (347.73 ha)[1]
Created December 8, 1906 (1906-December-08)
Visitors 573,731 (in 2011)[2]
Governing body National Park Service
Designated: October 15, 1966
Reference No. 66000082[3]

Montezuma Castle National Monument, located near Camp Verde, Arizona, in the Southwestern United States, features well-preserved cliff-dwellings. They were built and used by the Pre-Columbian Sinagua people, northern cousins of the Hohokam,[4] around 700 AD. The structure is five stories and took about five centuries to complete.[5] It was occupied from approximately 1100–1425 AD, and occupation peaked around 1300 AD.[6] Several Hopi clans trace their roots to immigrants from the Montezuma Castle/Beaver Creek area. Clan members periodically return to their former homes for religious ceremonies. When European Americans discovered them in the 1860s, they named them for the Aztec emperor (of Mexico) Montezuma II, due to mistaken beliefs that the emperor had been connected to their construction.[7] (See also Montezuma (mythology).) Neither part of the monument's name is correct. The Sinaqua dwelling was abandoned 100 years before Montezuma was born and the dwellings were not a castle. It is more like a "prehistoric high rise apartment complex".[8]

Cliff dwelling[edit]

Closeup view of the Castle

Montezuma Castle is near the top of a Verde Valley cliff and is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The area was briefly abandoned due to volcanic ash from the Sunset Crater volcano. It is likely that the sediment from that aided in agricultural endeavors when the Sinagua arrived. During the interim, the Sinagua lived on the hills nearby and sustained themselves on agriculture dependent on rain. After 1125, the Sinagua resettled in the Verde Valley and used irrigation systems left by the Hohokam.[9] The monument itself encloses 826 acres and lies at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range physiographic provinces. The latest estimated date of Sinagua occupation for any site is for Montezuma Castle National Monument around 1425 AD. The population is thought to have peaked around 1300 AD.[10] The reasons for abandonment of their habitation sites are not yet known, but warfare, drought, and clashes with the newly arrived Yavapai people have been suggested. The five-story stone and mortar dwellings contain 20 rooms and once housed about 50 people. A natural overhang shades the rooms and shelters them from rain. Another part of the cliff wall bears the marks of an even larger dwelling, which has not survived. Due to heavy looting, very few original artifacts remain. The discovery of Castle A in 1933 revealed many Sinagua artifacts and greatly increased understanding of their way of life.

The Montezuma Castle sits on the cliff face like an aerie.

The castle was carved into the limestone of a high cliff. This shows that the Sinaqua were very daring builders. It took ladders to climb Montezuma Castle which made it incredibly difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate the natural defense of the vertical barrier.[8]

The dwellings and the surrounding area were declared a U.S. National Monument on December 8, 1906 as a result of the American Antiquities Act, signed earlier in June of the same year. It was one of the four original sites designated National Monuments by President Theodore Roosevelt. The National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.[3]

This is an easy monument to visit, a short distance off Interstate 17, exit 289. There is a ⅓-mile paved trail starting at the visitor center that follows the base of the cliff containing the ruins. Access to the ruins has not been allowed since 1951 due to extensive damage of the dwelling. About 350,000 tourists visit the site each year. The park is open 7 days a week from 8am–5pm, except for Christmas.

The visitor center includes a museum about the Sinagua and the tools they used to build the dwellings. The Montezuma Castle site houses many artifacts, such as stone tools, metates used for grinding corn, bone needles and ornaments of shell and gemstone which prove that the Sinagua were fine artisans. All of these relics are on display at the Montezuma Visitors Center.[11] There is also a gift shop.

Montezuma Well[edit]


Montezuma Castle
(NRHP = National Register of Historic Places)[12]
Historic view of Montezuma Castle, 1887 
Montezuma Castle, c. 1935, Historic American Buildings Survey 
The cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument 
Montezuma Castle in Southern Arizona 
Display which shows how the Pre-Columbian Sinagua people lived in Montezuma Castle, a historic cliff dwelling located in Montezuma Castle National Monument near Camp Verde, Arizona. The display and its contents are the work of an employee of the Bureau of Land Management. 


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-14. 
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  3. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  4. ^ "Montezuma Castle National Monument". Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  5. ^ ArizonaGuide
  6. ^ Snow
  7. ^ Protas, Josh (2002). "Explorations, Impressions, and Excavations: The Prehistoric Ruins of the Verde Valley in the Nineteenth Century". Montezuma Castle NM: A Past Preserved in Stone. Western National Parks Association, Tucson, Arizona. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  8. ^ a b "Montezuma Castle". Arizona Leisure. 
  9. ^ "Montezuma Castle National Monument". TLC Guides. 
  10. ^ Snow. p.134.
  11. ^ "Montezuma Castle (National Monument)". Archived from the original on 2008-10-28. 
  12. ^ National Register of Historic Places, Yavapai County


  • Snow, Dean R (2010). Archaeology of Native North America. Boston: Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780136156864. 

External links[edit]