Old Town was established in the early 1700's. A number of historic buildings have been restored and are now little shops, art galleries and restaurants.
Just as in Santa Fe, several Indian artisans were gathered beneath a sheltered walkway, displaying their wares. This was the main part of town until the railroad came to Albuquerque in 1880.
Across the street was a public park, where benches invited the weary to sit for a while (picture #3) and military cannons drew husbands and children over for a closer examination (picture #2). Those pictured are called Mountain Howitzers.
We didn't have the opportunity to see much of Albuquerque on our last visit, so it was interesting walking about the historic streets.
This lovely stucco church has been standing across from town square for over two hundred years. It's the San Felipe de Neri Church, which has been a 'house of prayer' since 1793. It is the oldest Catholic parish in Albuquerque.
San Felipe has been placed on the National and State registry of historic places. There are plans to further restore this beautiful landmark and it is hoped that the public will want to be part of the project. The building is an adobe construction with 5 foot thick walls.
Sometime after the mid-1800's, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy of Santa Fe coordinated some improvements to the building and added spires. The gables at the entrance and widow's walk were added by Jesuit Priests who traveled to Albuquerque from Naples.
The Parish museum can be visited from Monday-Saturday between 10am-4pm. Religious items, as well as, souvenirs can be purchased. For more history on this historic church see the website below.
Yes, it's Tourist Central but what the heck - we kicked off the hiking boots and joined the masses for an afternoon. Old Town is roughly bordered by Mountain Rd. on the north, Central Avenue on the south, Rio Grande Blvd on the west, 19th street on the east, and has been the heart of Albuquerque for over 300 years. No ugly strip mall or "big box" stores here - the small shops, restaurants and galleries gather about shaded plazas and patios, and surround a two-centuries-old adobe church. On the east side is Albuquerque Museum of Art and History - a nice escape from the heat of a New Mexican summer - and a very good sculpture garden that's free for the roaming.
As with most tourist hubs, the merchandise quality ranges from very nice to downright tacky, and gallery prices from many figures to just a couple. Restaurants serve up everything from platters of tamales to steaks and crepes. Again, some of it is terrific and some of it not-so. I'll cover the two we ate at - best to do some research on the rest.
If nothing else, park the car, stretch your legs, find a nice cold margarita and enjoy the sunshine!
Reference the website for list of shops, restaurants and galleries, maps, directions, etc.
Old Town was the original village where it all began. In 1706 La Villa de Alburquerque was founded. From that small village the city of Albuquerque grew. Old Town is definately worth a stroll. Lots of shopping and art galleries.
San Felipe de Neri Church, founded in 1706, was originally located near where Plaza Don Luis stands today. In 1793, the present church was built. San Falipe de Neri presently has 800 families registered and has been in continuous use for almost 300 years. It is on both the National and State Register for Historical Properties.
The Church is open to the public daily. Masses: Sat. 5:30 pm; Sun. 7:00am, 8:30 am (in Spanish), & 10:15 am. Church Museum (located in back patio) is open Mon-Sat. 10-4. Donations accepted.
Although the interior won't necessarily "wow" you a stop at this historic church is a must, especially since it is located in 'Old Town'.
As said in the introduction, we were only here for the day, so a quick trip to the old town was the best we could do with the time we had. The old town is relatively authentic and not overly restored or commercialized relative to so other cities. The Church, unfortunately, is not the original adobe structure, but it still has some age to it. The souvenir shops are mostly filled with junk though, so spend your money elsewhere. The prices of jewelry and other authentic Indian wear is simply too high here. The restaurant we dined at though was quite good and had a view of the plaza.
As in any Spanish colonial city, the heart of Albuquerque’s Old Town is its Plaza. The town was founded in 1706 and as it grew settlers built their houses near the church and around a defensible centre, which eventually became the plaza.
Shaded with trees it is a very pleasant place in which to take a rest between sightseeing and shopping (the two main activities in the Old Town). Children play and both locals and tourists relax on the benches. At the centre is a gazebo which apparently is a popular place for wedding photos to be taken after ceremonies in the church. Also on the plaza are two replicas of cannons which were buried by retreating Confederate troops during a Civil War skirmish on April 8 – 9, 1862. The original cannons are in the Albuquerque Museum.
The Plaza is surrounded by restaurants and shops with high tourist-appeal - despite the presence of the attractive old church of San Felipe de Neri, shopping appears to be something of a religion in the Old Town. Under the porticos of some of the buildings, Native American traders sell jewellery and other crafts. We didn’t buy anything here (although were to do so a couple of days later in a similar setting in Santa Fe) but it looked a good option if you are shopping – it’s always nice to buy direct rather than pay shop overheads!
The most striking building in Albuquerque’s Old Town is the church of San Felipe de Neri on the north side of the Plaza, the oldest building in the city. With its slightly incongruous white wooden spires gleaming against the blue sky it is very hard to miss. These spires are a later addition to the late 18th century adobe structure, which itself was built to replace the original (1706) building that collapsed after the particularly rainy summer of 1792. These spires were added under the direction of Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, whom we were to encounter again later in our trip, in Santa Fe. This French bishop came to the area with very European ideas of what a place of worship should look like – and it wasn’t built of mud!
The bulk of San Felipe de Neri is adobe however, with five foot thick walls. Its cool interior would have been welcoming in the heat of the afternoon even if we hadn’t been interested to explore within. It isn’t large but is quite grand in appearance, with an ornate Baroque altar (see photo three) and an elaborate pressed-tin ceiling (added in 1916).
This tiny cross-shaped chapel is a hidden gem of the Old Town, and I’m sure many tourists pass by without realising that is there – we certainly would have done so if it were not for our trusty Moon Handbook, as it isn’t visible from the road and neither is it signposted. It is dedicated to the first saint of Mexico and it is clear by the votive candles burning here, the flowers and the little prayer messages that it is an active place of devotion. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe dominates one arm of the cross, to your right as you enter, and opposite it is a colourful stained glass circular window (photo two) which acts as a perpetual calendar, showing the Feasts of the Virgin and the phases of the moon. Opposite the entrance is a small altar.
After our visit I found a story associated with the chapel, which claims that it is haunted by a lady in black. She has apparently often been seen seated on the far right bench of the chapel, weeping copiously. She wears a long black dress and her face is concealed by a dark veil. She is often mistaken for a real person, until she mysteriously vanishes, at which point the observer realises that she cannot after all be real. The lady is not menacing or threatening, but those who have seen her say that there is a deep sense of sadness emulating from her.
The chapel is not old, having been built in 1975 by a Dominican nun, Sister Giotto, as part of the establishment of a school of sacred art in Albuquerque. Outside the chapel a wall is decorated with a number of small ceramic tiles set in at intervals, portraying various saints – see photo three for one that caught my eye, of St Francis I think.
Most former Spanish towns have a central plaza with a church. Albuquerque is no exception. Old Town is touristy but still should be visited. Besides the church, many shops, art galleries and hidden patios, several of Albuquerque's museums are in the same area, including the art museum, the natural history museum (with its dinosaur exhibits), the science museum (Explora!) and even a rattlesnake museum. The middle two are great for kids. My favorite restaurant in the area is Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, which is north of Old Town Plaza across Mountain Road. It is also only about half a mile to the Botanical Garden and Aquarium. Don't miss the kaleidoscope shop (see below).
La Casita de Kaleidoscopes should not be missed. It is in the Patio Market, a small courtyard southeast of the Plaza that many people don't find. Tell Lesley that AlbuqRay sent you. Warning to men though...don't let your significant other find the jewelry store next door, Christian Wolf Gallery (it's too late for me).
I freely confess that I did not sample the excitement available from the nightly Ghost Tours of Old Town -- they even have a Full Moon ghost hunting tour if your schedule happens to coincide with the lunar event -- both because I don't like to be scared and because they begin nightly at 8:00 PM which is about the time when I start thinking about cocoa and a good book. However, for everyone who isn't such a stick-in-the-mud, by all means give the tours a try and let me know what I missed!
According to the website, you get ninety minutes of lantern-lit exploration of three hundred years of haunted history for your $20.00 ticket.
When the first families settled near the banks of the Rio Grande in 1706, Albuquerque was a colonial farming village and a military outpost along the Camino Real between Chihuahua and Santa Fe. The village formed in the traditional Spanish pattern of a central plaza surrounded by the Church, government buildings and homes.
Provincial Governor Cuervo y Valdez named the villa in honor of the Viceroy of New Spain, the Duke of Alburquerque. In the early 1800s, the first "r" was dropped from the official spelling. The church of San Felipe de Neri was originally built on the west side of the plaza. In 1793 the site was changed to the present location on the north side. You can walk inside the church; there is also a small museum with relics dating from the 17th century.
OPEN: church - 8AM until dusk; museum - 1-4
Constructed in 1793, the Church of San Felipe de Neri is still a working Catholic parish. It is possible to attend church services here on Sundays and on Wednesday evenings. One of these years, I'd like to attend their Christmas Eve Midnight Mass - very beautiful with the entire Plaza decorated with the traditional lumarias (also known as farolitos) - lined-up paper bags with a lighted candle inside illuminating the outside of the bag. The church is open to the public from 8 in the morning until dusk, except during special events.