Cliff Palace: The Largest Cliff Dwelling In North America

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The structure built by the Ancestral Puebloans is located in Mesa Verde National Park in their former homeland region. Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single-room storage units. It is thought that the dwelling was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.

The largest of all the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Cliff Palace has about 150 rooms and more than 20 circular rooms

Cliff Palace

It was built in pieces between about 1200 and 1275, with each family constructing its own kiva and room suite, and grew to include 150 rooms and twenty-three kivas. Kivas, circular areas excavated into the ground, were the central residential structures at sites such as Cliff Palace. Kivas could be used for residences and ritual gatherings; they could also be covered with a flat roof to make a small plaza. Around each kiva were suites of small rooms that made up a courtyard complex shared by an extended family or clan. These residential courtyard complexes made up more than 75 percent of Cliff Palace. The rest of the site consisted of isolated kivas, rooms without nearby kivas, circular towers, great kivas, and other special-use spaces.

Cliff Palace

The rock you see is Cliffhouse sandstone, geologically deposited during the Cretaceous Period some 78 million years ago. Since sandstone is a very porous material, moisture seeps right down through it. Beneath the layer of sandstone, however, is a layer of shale through which the moisture cannot penetrate. In the winter months, when the moisture freezes and expands, chunks of sandstone are cracked and loosened. Later these pieces collapse, forming alcoves such as the one here. The majority of alcoves within Mesa Verde National Park are small crevices or ledges able to accommodate only a few small rooms. Very few are large enough to house a dwelling the size of Mesa Verde Cliff Palace.

Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace
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Cliff Palace
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The 28-foot-tall Stone Tower House in Cliff Palace