Most Tarascan towns were formed during the social reforms of the sixteenth century. To this day, the central plaza in each town contains a church whose patron saint represents the local indigenous community and a building site dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (called the yurhixu in Tarascan or hospital in Spanish). Towns are organized into barrios leading out from the central plaza and typically grouped together to divide the settlement in two halves. Barrios are composed of household compounds, each of which traditionally features wooden structures for storing goods in the front facing the street and leading to a packed-earth courtyard (called ek'ukutiniarhu in Tarascan). Typically, at the end of a compound's courtyard is a wooden kitchen house (which also serves as sleeping quarters), a granary, and a small, roofed corral. Behind the cooking house is a large area ( inchákutini ) for cultivating maize, fruit trees, and medicinal and ornamental plants for family consumption. Bilingual Tarascans often use the Spanish term solar to describe this compound garden plot and orchard, whereas local Hispano-Mexicans use the Tarascan borrowing ecuaro, which also refers to areas of cultivation in lands suitable only to hoe farming.
Tarascan towns range in population from 1,000 to 7,000 inhabitants. The pattern of town settlements varies in the different subregions of the Tarascan homeland. Most distinctive are the settlements in the small Duero River Valley, or Cañada de las Once Pueblos, which form an almost continuous line along the original colonial road connecting Morelia with Guadalajara. All Tarascan towns are associated with a constellation of small hamlets, or ranchos, ranging from as few as 30 to as many as 500 inhabitants. Generally these hamlets were formed over generations when sites for seasonal cultivation and pasturage gradually became permanent residences.
The traditional texture of Tarascan settlements has changed significantly in the last half of the twentieth century. The movable wooden cabin, or troje, with its fir shingles, and the stacked-stone walls of the family compounds are rapidly being replaced by constructions of brick and concrete. Migrants to Mexican cities and to the United States have returned with new house plans and a taste for concrete floors and two-story structures with windows. These changes are especially visible in the towns along the shores of Lake Pátzcuaro.