Albuquerque's Old Town dates back to the community's founding in the early 1700s. This area was the focal point of commerce as well as political, religious and social functions. The Old Town Plaza is located near the center of these ten blocks of historic adobe buildings that offer retail and dining, as well as historic sites and a museum.
The historic district dates back to 1706, when the Spanish, specifically Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, founded Albuquerque. Valdez was a Spanish politician who also ruled Nuevo Leon, Coahuila (1698-1703) and Texas (1698-1702). The district takes up about ten blocks and is filled with historic adobe buildings. Old Town did not officially become part of Albuquerque until the 1940s.
During the Christmas season, thousands of luminarias line the streets of Old Town. A luminaria is a small paper lantern. It is thought that this tradition originated with Spanish merchants who were inspired by traditional Chinese paper lanterns. In the Roman Catholic religion, luminarias are meant to guide the spirit of the Christ child to one's home. However, in the present-day, they are largely viewed as a secular decoration, similar to Christmas lights. Luminaria, meaning "festival light", is generally the preferred term for the decoration in most of New Mexico. However, in Santa Fe they are generally referred to as farolito, which means "little lantern."
A different type of lumanaria is used during a nine-day celebration called Las Posadas. Las Posadas originated in Spain and is now chiefly celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, and the Southwestern US. The nine days are meant to represent the nine months of Mary's pregnancy with Jesus. The celebration runs from December 16 to the 24. The leader of the Las Posadas procession carries another type of lantern called a luminaria.
Also located in Old Town is the historic church San Felipe de Neri. This three hundred year old church comes from an even older parish. The original church was founded by a Franciscan priest named Fray Manuel Moreno. Moreno came to Albuquerque (then spelled Alburquerque) in 1704 or 1705 from Bernalillo with 30 families. By 1718 or 1719, the construction of the first church was completed. This original church collapsed during the summer of 1792, a particularly rainy year, and the present church was built the following summer out of Adobe. This church is the oldest building in the city.