[Editor’s Note: Considering that the island of Puerto Rico as well other countries and territories are currently on lockdown as a precautionary measure in view of the COVID-19 pandemia, we find worthy to republish some ecotreasures ® articles in this issue. We exhort you to appreciate the privilege of engaging in history-and-culture-oriented experiences as you read for the first time or again the story below. Historical sites and cultural experiences are awaiting you so visualize your next history-related experience for future planning.]
Article originally published in September 2016 ecotreasures issue:
Old San Juan, the main historic district in the island of Puerto Rico, is also known as the Walled City due to the majestic limestone wall that was built under the Spanish Crown to protect the old city against foreigners’ attacks. Other defensive structures were also built in diverse strategic points around this landmark.
Even though people may explore on their own Old San Juan, a walk around the Walled City along with a tour guide may enrich the experience. Therefore, we decided to engage in a guided discovery of the remaining wall on the western side of Old San Juan.
The meeting place of the walking tour was at the San Juan Gate, one of the best spots to admire part of the San Juan Wall nearby Paseo de la Princesa and Paseo del Morro. According to Javier Ruiz, Leisure Awakenings’ tour guide, as of the 18th century the whole historic wall was over 3 miles long and surrounded the old city.
Javier stated that at least five gates were built as part of the San Juan Wall. He explained that access through the San Juan Gate was limited, and that mainly, Spanish Crown’s representatives, and high-ranking military and government officers were allowed such access.
While we admired the San Juan Gate and San Juan Bay’s view, Javier exhorted us to “feel the energy” in Old San Juan. As we crossed the San Juan Gate and walked towards the interior of the Walled City, we felt special as if we had overcome the imposing San Juan Wall barrier.
Our walk on Caleta de San Juan Street let us appreciate the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Museum building, former residence of the first woman to become the Mayor of the City of San Juan, as well as other historic buildings on the Felisa Rincón de Gautier Square. We saw the former Carmelitas Nuns Convent (today El Convento Hotel), and the previous City Hall (today a building with commercial area), all pointed by the tour guide. As we approached Del Cristo Street, the grandness of the Saint John The Baptist Cathedral stood out.
Then we headed back towards the San Juan Gate and the nearby path to admire the defensive structures built along the San Juan Wall. We saw the 16th-century Casa Blanca building, the first stone defensive structure built under the Spanish Crown, as stated by Javier. Casa Blanca (today Casa Blanca Museum) was also intended to be the former Governor Juan Ponce de León’s residence, but he never resided there.
As we walked on the Paseo del Morro, we were impressed by the outstanding 16th-century “Fortaleza”, a fortress which was built in view of the increase of attack threats. This fortification represents one of the oldest defensive structures in Puerto Rico and the Americas, as informed by Javier.
Also, we saw the Saint Elena Bastion, another defensive structure located in a strategic place along the San Juan Wall. Javier explained that those who overcame the Morro Fort’s defensive attack were surprised by Saint Elena Bastion’s attack.
We sensed a strong change of energy when we walked nearby a 17th-century “garita” (Spanish fort’s guard post). Javier emphasized that this “garita” is one of the few that allows you to admire the original structure and its wear and tear. As we appreciated the beauty of this “garita”, we felt very nostalgic. Silence and calmness predominated at this site.
Nearby the end of Paseo del Morro, we felt the refreshing ocean breeze and enjoyed listening to the sounds of strong waves. We saw the San Juan de La Cruz small fort (also known as the Cañuelo), a 17th- century stone fortification located in Isla de Cabras. Along with the San Felipe del Morro Fort, the Cañuelo served as a cross fire fortification.
At the end of the path, the massive construction of part of the San Felipe del Morro Fort stood out. The construction of the San Felipe del Morro Fort began in the 16th century and was finished in the 18th century. It was impressive to stand so close to the extraordinary fortification that protected the island of Puerto Rico from many foreigners’ attacks.
This 2.5- hour tour served as a prologue of what you can expect from an exploration of Old San Juan. After a walk on the Paseo del Morro, you may visit the San Felipe del Morro Fort, managed by the U.S. National Park Service, relax and lie on the ground of this fortification’s landscape, or walk on other paths nearby the ocean and the San Felipe del Morro Fort.
You may schedule a tour reservation by contacting Leisure Awakenings at 787-525-6905. This tour provider also conducts other types of tours in Old San Juan, including custom-made tours.
Translated by N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo
Note: Leisure Awakenings is currently known as Private Tours of Old San Juan.