For those of you like me who think that San Juan is just a place to catch a cruise ship, I don’t want to spoil the image of the place for you, but truly there is much more to San Juan that this picture might relay. In fact the picture I took here in the early evening is not of the ship that we were on, but it was taken from
the ship we were on. Regardless, I still love the shot and it still brings back those memories of San Juan for me.
Actually there is good reason for this. San Juan is a major port and tourist resort of the West Indies and it is also the oldest city under the U.S flag. The metropolitan area known as San Juan has 3 distinct areas: Old San Juan, the Beach & Resort area, and other outlying communities, the most important: Río Piedras, Hato Rey, Puerta de Tierra, and Santurce. Río Piedras was founded in 1714 but became incorporated into San Juan in 1951.
Even though most shots of San Juan show the fort that tells much of the history of San Juan. San Juan is one of the biggest and best natural harbors in the Caribbean and is the second oldest city in the Americas.
San Juan is actually known as "La Ciudad Amurallada" (the walled city). San Juan was founded in 1521. In 1508 Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra, now known as Pueblo Viejo, behind the almost land-locked harbor just to the west of the present metropolitan area. A year later, the settlement was abandoned and moved to the site of what is now called Old San Juan.
There really are some interesting things in San Juan besides its famous cruise port. The famous fort (that seems to be the most photographed tourist traps) in San Juan is actually called El Morrow. The word itself sounds powerful and this six-level fortress certainly is. Begun in 1540 and completed in 1589. San Felipe del Morro was named in honor of King Phillip II. Most of the walls in the fort today were added later, in a period of tremendous construction from the 1760's-1780's.
Rising 140 feet above the sea, its 18-foot-thick wall proved a formidable defense. It fell only once, in 1598, to a land assault by the Earl of Cumberland's forces. The fort is a maze of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outposts and ramps. El Morro is studded with small, circular sentry boxes called "garitas" that have become a national symbol. The views of San Juan Bay from El Morro are spectacular. The area was designated a National Historic Site in February, 1949 with 74 total acres. It has the distinction of being the largest fortification in the Caribbean. In 1992, the fortress was restored to its historical form in honor of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico by Christopher Columbus. El Morro Fortress is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.
The Catedral de San Juan (San Juan Cathedral) was built in the 1520's, the original church on these grounds had wooden walls and a thatched roof. It was destroyed by hurricane in 1526 (October 4th), rebuilt in 1540, looted in 1598, and damaged by another hurricane in 1615. The Cathedral as seen today is the result of work done in 1917, when major restorations were performed.
This Cathedral is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture. The cathedral contains the marble tomb of the island's first governor Juan Ponce de León and the relic of San Pio, a Roman martyr. San Juan Cathedral still holds religious services on a regular schedule.
The Casino of Puerto Rico was built just before World War I. The exterior - in the style of French mansions of the Louis XVI era, a copper copula, a large ballroom with elaborate plaster-work and a 12-foot chandelier distinguish this building.
The Casa Blanca (White House) was built in 1521 and lived in by Ponce de León descendants for over 250 years. In 1779 it was taken over by the Spanish military, and then used later by the United States as a residence for military commanders (1898-1966). Today the mansion serves as National Historic Monument, housing a museum of 16th, 17th and 18th century history. Each room is decorated in a style associated with a period of the house's history. Casa Blanca is the oldest continuously occupied residence in the Western Hemisphere. Located on San Sebastián Street, Old San Juan, houses an ethnographic museum and Taino (native Indian) artifacts.
The Pablo Casals Museum is the Spanish master's legacy to the people of Puerto Rico. The museum collection includes manuscripts, memorabilia, photographs and a library of videotapes of Festival Casals concerts. Casals moved to Puerto Rico with his wife in the 1950s. He became the conductor of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the president of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico.
Whether you think of San Juan as a port or a fort, it doesn't really matter, but it is actually a destination in and of itself."A vacation is having nothing to do and all day long to do it in."
~ Robert Orben