Inside Montezuma Castle: Construction

Verticle cutaway view of Montezuma Castle
This drawing shows a vertical cutaway view of Montezuma Castle. The outer walls visible from the trail are on the right.

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Montezuma Castle consists of 20 rooms covering five distinct levels. The primary entrance is through a doorway on level 2, with access to other levels through interior wooden ladders which extend through openings in the ceiling. Some of the photographs in this virtual tour show the wooden plank-ways and metal handrails that were added as safety precautions for visitors. Today, efforts are underway to remove these now unnecessary additions to the structure.

The walls are made of locally available limestone rocks stacked and held together with clay, much like laying bricks on a modern house. Once the construction of the outer walls was completed, an adobe plaster was used to coast and seal the exterior. The same practice, although with different materials, is still used today in modern home construction.

Floor beams visible extending from the outer wall of the Castle.
Wooden beams like these, which can be seen extending out of the walls of the Castle, indicate the presence of an interior floor.

NPS Photo by Paul Ollig

Most of the rooms are built on natural limestone ledges. Where ledges were unavailable, the Sinagua used large support beams and cross beams to construct multiple floor levels. The wooden beams that can be seen protruding from the outer walls of the Castle are part of the original construction and indicate the presence of an interior floor.

The ceilings are supported by large beams of Sycamore wood. Cross beams were filled in with smaller branches, twigs, grasses and reeds to create thatching. Finally, several inches of mud was used to complete the both the ceiling as well as the floor for the next level. The image below shows a cross section of this type of construction. You can see that most of the mud plaster for the floor has broken apart into chunks.

Cross-section of a floor inside Montezuma Castle
This cross section of one of the interior floors of Montezuma Castle demonstrates how twigs and reeds were placed on top of cross beams to create thatching, which was then covered with a layer of mud. The mud on this level as broken apart to form large chunks.

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Last updated: December 5, 2023

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