I have been to 3 of the major Forts that defended the City of Old San Juan. These defenses are made of solid stone walls that had kept the city safe from invaders since the mid-1500s. Today, these forts are a part of the San Juan National Historic Site and recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Seeing these defensive walls and especially the guerites (in Spanish, garita), sentry boxes or watchtowers made me reminisce of something familiar from back home, it reminded me of our very own Intramuros, “Walled City” in Manila, Philippines.
A Brief History
Puerto Rico, now a colony of the U.S., was once a Spanish territory. And it sure did leave its marks to the city of Old San Juan. Discovered by Christopher Columbus, the island was originally named in 1493 as San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico in honor of St John the Baptist, but during the 1520s the island’s name was switched and became known as Puerto Rico meaning “Rich Port” and San Juan came to be its capital city. Puerto Rico together with Cuba in the Caribbean, Guam and the Philippines in the Pacific, were all under Spanish regime for a few hundred years until the late 1800s. The Spanish-American war of 1898 paved way for these countries to gain independence from Spanish oppression. Puerto Rico came under military control of the Americans and later on turned into a U.S. territory through the Jones Act of 1917.
La Fortaleza had served as the residence of the Puerto Rican Governor dating from the 16th century until the present day making it the oldest executive mansion in incessant use in the Americas. It was the first of a series of protective barriers built for the city of San Juan.
Fort San Felipe del Morro
Seven years after La Fortaleza was built, Castillo San Felipe del Morro began its construction with the main purpose of supervising the entry to the harbor. During the 17th – 18th centuries, attacks were more prevalent and it is one of the Forts that defended the Spanish military force from the Dutch and other conquerors.
Castillo San Cristobal (Fort San Cristobal)
It was built to protect San Juan from the land invaders; construction started on 1765 and was finished in 1783. It is the largest fortification that was built by the Spanish in the New World. Fort San Cristobal is where the "The Devil's Guerite" ("La Garita del Diablo") can be found. Today, the guerite is currently inaccessible to the public.
If you’re into historical sites and cultural heritage, the city of Old San Juan is definitely for you.
Are you ready to travel back in time in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico?
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