The one-of-a-kind character of Albuquerque is the result of many different forces, perhaps none as important as the centuries of history that have shaped the city. Starting with the Native Americans who have lived here for thousands of years, and continuing through Albuquerque's official founding in 1706, the city has grown into a multicultural metropolis of nearly a million people. While the modern city of Albuquerque is a center of high-tech industry and research, it retains vital connections to the past, such as the ancient rock carvings at Petroglyph National Monument, the historic Old Town Plaza and the trail of vintage neon signs along Route 66.
Albuquerque proudly celebrated its tricentennial in 2006, but our roots go back much further. It is important to understand all the peoples who have influenced the area to fully appreciate the complexity of Albuquerque's history. The Rio Grande Valley has been populated and cultivated since as far back as 2,000 B.C. The Pueblo people who lived in the area when Europeans arrived had a sophisticated culture and advanced skills in stone masonry, ceramics and a wide range of arts and crafts. Many of these traditional techniques are practiced to this day, handed down through the generations.
The first Spanish explorers arrived in Albuquerque in approximately 1540 under General Francisco de Coronado. Later expeditions brought settlers deep into New Mexico’s river valleys. In 1706, a group of colonists were granted permission by King Philip of Spain to establish a new villa (city) on the banks of the Rio Grande (which means big or great river). The colonists chose a spot at the foot of the mountains where the river made a wide curve, providing good irrigation for crops and a source of wood from the bosque (the cottonwoods, willows and olive trees that grow along the river). The site also provided protection from, and trade with, the Native Americans in the area. The colony’s governor, Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, penned a letter to the Duke of Alburquerque back in Spain to report their newly founded villa, named La Villa de Alburquerque in honor of the duke. Over the centuries, the first “r” was dropped, leaving Albuquerque spelled as it is today.
The early Spanish settlers were religious people, and the first building erected was a small adobe chapel where today’s San Felipe de Neri Church still stands, in Albuquerque’s Old Town. Its plaza was surrounded by adobe homes, clustered close together for mutual protection. The chapel collapsed after the particularly rainy summer of 1792; it was rebuilt a year later. While San Felipe de Neri has been enlarged and remodeled several times since the 1700s, its original thick adobe walls remain intact. The church is the anchor of Old Town, the historic and sentimental heart of Albuquerque. The plaza is host to many cultural events and local celebrations.
Today Albuquerque is a major Southwestern city with a diverse population and some of the nation's leading high-tech research facilities, including Sandia National Laboratories, Intel and the University of New Mexico. At the same time, its cultural traditions continue to be an essential part of everyday life in the city. With one foot in the past, one foot in the present and both eyes on the future, Albuquerque is a fascinating place to visit and an even better place to call home.
For a closer look at the fascinating history of Albuquerque, New Mexico, be sure to visit the other articles in this section, including a historical timeline. See Museums & Cultural Centers to experience the history of Albuquerque, or take a historic tour at Sightseeing & Specialty Tours.