Rodeo, New Mexico
April 25, 2004
An excellent introduction to this early period in Tucson’s history can be found at la Casa Córdova, a historic adobe home with a flat roof and central courtyard. At 175 N. Meyer Avenue, it is Tucson’s oldest home. The oldest two rooms were built before 1853, when the Gadsden Purchase made Arizona part of the United States. This two-room house probably served more for storage and cold weather protection; most of the year, families cooked and slept outdoors. Gabino and Carmen Ortega, who bought the house in 1879, added four more rooms. In 1896, the Córdova family bought the home. The home was restored in 1975 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is now operated by the Tucson Museum of Art. Inside the rooms are displays describing Tucson’s Presidio past, a reconstructed kitchen and bedroom, and a room containing a very special Mexican traditional Nacimiento.
Maria Luisa Tena of Tucson has kept this Christmas tradition alive and on display between November and March since 1978 as a memorial to her mother. Descriptions and photos really cannot do it justice. You just have to see it in all its elaborate splendor and attention to the most minute detail. Nacimientos, or nativity scenes including scenes from Mexican folk life and customs and other Biblical scenes, probably originated in the 1500s in Mexico. The two central scenes are the misterio, the manger scene with the Holy Family, and Los Reyes Magos, the adoration of the Magi. Colored wax figurines and miniature finely detailed reproductions of objects and landscapes are used to compose the scenes. Traditionally, the scenes are not static, but figures are moved throughout the Christmas season and afterwards by the family or neighborhood. There may be prayer, ceremonies, and parties when Nacimiento movements are made. Maria Luisa Tena’s Nacimiento, composed of more than 400 painted figures, has a real miniature stream and waterfall running through it, and is illuminated by hundreds of tiny lights. Assisted by a helper, Maria Luisa devotes more than 200 hours of labor to preparing the Nacimiento for its November opening at the Casa Córdova every year. She painstakingly and lovingly removes, washes, and reassembles every object and scene. This labor of love is truly worth a visit.
There is so much more to see in this small area, including the Tucson Art Museum, Presidio Park, Sunset Park, and the architecturally fascinating Pima County Courthouse, with its mosaic tiled dome. And I haven’t even mentioned the shopping and restaurants! You can easily spend an entire day exploring, viewing art, and learning about Arizona history at the endlessly colorful and cultural Presidio District.
From journal Spring at the Foot of Dark Mountain -- Tucson