The historic heart of Albuquerque is Old Town Plaza, where the pace slows and pedestrians find refuge from fast traffic. Old Town's official beginning took place on April 23, 1706, when Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, the Spanish governor of New Mexico, certified the founding of the Villa de Alburquerque. Spain's Laws of the Indies, in effect at the time, required setting a plaza at the center of any villa.
Centered around the plaza, Albuquerque's Old Town comprises about ten blocks of historic adobe buildings. On the north side of the plaza is the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city, built in 1793. Surrounding the church, the city's settlers had built their homes, shops and government offices, many of which have been converted into the restaurants, art galleries and shops of Old Town. More than 100 stores and galleries feature a wide variety of Southwestern artwork, including jewelry, sculpture, paintings, weaving and pottery. In addition, the Albuquerque Museum, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, and Explora Science Center and Children's Museum are all located just to the east of Old Town, showcasing world-class exhibits.
Once running through Old Town Plaza was El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road of the Interior Lands, which connected Mexico City with New Mexico's Spanish capitals, San Gabriel and, later, Santa Fe. From 1598 until the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821, El Camino Real was the main route into New Mexico for people, animals and goods from distant places. Now El Camino Real is a National Historic Trail designated by the U.S. government.
Old Town today looks much like it did when it was built centuries ago, 70 years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Its Pueblo-Spanish-style architecture, with flat-roofed buildings and soft contours of adobe, mirrors the Southwestern landscape. Long portals (porches) line the fronts of most buildings, offering shade from the New Mexican sun. Bancos (benches) are often found built into the back walls of the portals, providing the perfect place for weary walkers to sit and be soothed by a Southwestern sunset.
Activities and events still revolve around the picturesque plaza, much as they did 300 years ago. Visitors to Old Town will find a treasure trove of history, hidden in plain sight at the center of modern Albuquerque.
See Old Town Albuquerque for more information.