Although its roots can be traced much earlier, Albuquerque’s official beginning is pegged at 1706 when a small a settlement was founded and named in honor of an early Viceroy of New Spain, the Duke of Alburquerque. Tradition says that the first “r” was mistakenly dropped by the town's first U.S. Post Office ... leaving Albuquerque spelled as it is today.
Cultural Crossroads — Past and Present
Ancient Indian trails, the Royal Road from Mexico, and the Santa Fe Trail converged in the Albuquerque area … in effect creating a cultural crossroad. The many centuries of American Indian, Spanish, Hispanic and Anglo influences have created a cultural blending that is still reflected art, music, customs, architecture and cuisine. One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting Albuquerque is discovering and experiencing the city’s numerous cultural centers, museums, and ethnic neighborhoods.
Old Town is the heart of Albuquerque’s’ Spanish Colonial heritage. The original Spanish layout is still very much in evidence … narrow shop line roads radiating out from a shady central plaza that is anchored by the mandatory church. The Plaza is an oasis of tranquility filled with shade trees, wrought iron benches and a graceful white gazebo.
The sense of history in Old Town is compelling. Both the El Camino Real and the Santa Fe Trail ran through the center of the Plaza ... and no fewer than five flags have flown over the Plaza ... including the Confederate flag. For three weeks in the early days of the Civil War, the Confederates occupied the plaza. Before the Confederates retreated, they buried their dead in the Plaza and eight canons nearby.
Anchoring the plaza is the 300 year old Church of San Felipe de Neri … the first building erected in Albuquerque. Its high windows and 4 foot thick walls were built to protect against Indian attacks. Although enlarged over the years, it still contains the original thick adobe walls of the first modest chapel. It's a cozy church and Mass is held daily both in English and Spanish. Click here to see the interior.
We must have painfully looked like tourists since an old guy on the street approached us and told us not to miss the Cottonwood Madonna carved in a tall tree behind the church. We’re glad we followed his advice. No one knows for sure when or who carved and painted this folk art treasure. Click here for a close up.
Old town is mainly a shopping venue. Although we are not as enamored with the area as most tourists seem to be, we enjoyed wandering through the maze of narrow alleys and hidden courtyards.
Tucked away along one of the small passageways is a small chapel, La Capilla de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
Inside the chapel is a colorful perpetual calendar that displays the moon’s phases and the16 feast days of the Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is made from three Plexiglas sheets that can rotate. At the beginning of each year, the calendar is set to display the feast days for the coming year.
One of the artistic landmarks of Old Town are the murals on the exterior of the Hacienda Restaurant. Extending almost one half block, the murals of Ted Schuyler depict the founding of Albuquerque.
One oddity in Old Town is the American International Rattlesnake Museum. It brings back visions of old time wacky Route 66 tourist attractions. It claims to have the world's largest collection of rattler species. We didn’t enter, but read the signs that thoughtfully remind visitors, "This is not a petting zoo."
During our second visit to Old Town, Danny spotted a couple of "goth/punker" type of guys performing some amazing acrobatics in the gazebo. They turned out to be not only very talented and athletic, but also very cool to hang with while Danny snapped away. We decided to give them a Photo Gallery of their own.
After becoming saturated with the commercialism of Old town, we went in search of some of the other historic neighborhoods. In the middle of Martineztown, one of Albuquerque’s oldest Hispanic neighborhoods is Manual’s Food-store. Established in 1924, by Manuel T. Sanchez, the small neighborhood market is a virtual history museum of Albuquerque politics – there are political posters everywhere. Click here and here to see more.
Its not surprising that all but one of the photos and posters are Democrats since Mr. Sanchez was the county Democratic Ward Chairman for 72 years. In fact, Mr. Sanchez is acknowledged in the Library of Congress as the longest continually elected official in the United States. The one lonely Republican is Barbara Bush, who is shown at a local library event.
When Mr. Sanchez was in his late 90’s, the Bank of America featured him and his daughter in a local promotion. His daughter, Clara who now runs the store, was friendly and shared many stories. She said that the poster “shoot” took three days and that she even had her own make-up artist.
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