DAY 2 – January 27
Trivia: Puerto Rico is a commonweath of the United States. Puerto Ricans can vote in the presidential primaries but not in the general elections. The currency is the U.S. dollar and the primary language is Spanish, although English is frequently used. San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico.
Day 2 was a big day. In the morning, Paul and I took a taxi from our hotel in Condado into Old San Juan. Old San Juan is one of the oldest and most historic areas in Puerto Rico.
In the greater San Juan area, the taxis charge a flat rate depending on which “zone” you are traveling to and from. Including the 10% tip, we paid about $20 for a 15-20 minute trip.
The taxi dropped us off at the Plaza Colon, one of the lovely squares in Old San Juan. Plaza Colon means “Columbus Square,” in honor of Christopher Columbus for discovering Puerto Rico in 1493 during his second voyage.
Puerto Rico was first colonized by the Spanish in 1508 by Juan Ponce de León. In 1509, the original settlement moved to the area now known as Old San Juan in order to be able to better protect the San Juan harbor from other jealous countries.
In 1539, the king of Spain authorized construction to begin on a fort to defend the entry to the San Juan port. The fort, which is today known as “Castillo San Felipe del Morro” or simply “El Morro,” covers 70 acres including the open “killing grounds” around the exterior. (More info/photos about El Morro is to come.)
In 1680, the governor of Puerto Rico began construction on city walls to surround the entirety of Old San Juan. It took 48 years to complete the city walls.
After the taxi dropped us off, we walked southeast towards the city walls along the ocean. There is a lovely walkway running along the ocean outside the city walls, leading down to the exterior of El Morro. The city walls are as tall as 42 feet and 45 feet thick at the base in some places. At the top, the wall is about 2 feet thick.
Walking along this path, we passed by local joggers as well as many feral cats. These cats are supposedly descendants of the cats the Spaniards brought to Puerto Rico.
The walls are studded with garitas — sentry boxes.
When important visitors came to San Juan, they entered through the red gate known as the San Juan Gate.
Along with Spanish rule came the Roman Catholic faith. The inscription above this gate reads: “Benedictus Oui Venit In Nomine Domini” — “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Inside the gate. Notice how thick the city walls are here!
The other side of the gate, inside the city walls.
Next, we walked to El Morro, the fort. El Morro is a National Historic Site administered by the U.S. National Park Service.
Notice the dry moat on either side of the entrance.
The plaza within the fort has been renovated to appear somewhat as it looked during its heyday.
The park ranger we talked to suggested starting from the lowest “level” of the fort up to the highest level.
Some areas of the fort have ramps instead of stairs. I suppose they needed to be able somehow to bring big things like cannons to various levels of the fort!
Since its construction in 1539, El Morro has served a number of purposes throughout the centuries. During Spanish rule, it survived an attack by the English led by Sir Francis Drake in 1595. The English attacked again in 1598 led by George Clifford and were partially successful through attacking by land rather than by sea — but they were forced to leave the island during a breakout of dysentery.
Here, you can see a few of semi-circle tracks for El Morro’s many cannons.
The Dutch attacked in 1625. Although they were successful in ransacking and burning much of the city, they were unable to penetrate El Morro.
During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. bombarded El Morro in 1898. During the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the ownership of ownership of Puerto Rico to the United States (along with the islands of Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines).
El Morro then became part of a U.S. military post called Fort Brooke and was active during World War I and II. The concrete bunker in the photo below was added during World War II to keep watch for German submarines.
In 1961, the U.S. military retired Forte Brooke and El Morro became part of the National Park Service.
On the highest level of the fort, there is a lighthouse. The first lighthouse was built on El Morro in 1846. The second lighthouse (1876) was struck by U.S. artillery fire during the Spanish-American war. The third lighthouse was rebuilt a year later but demolished in 1906 due to structural problems. The current lighthouse was constructed in 1908 in the Moorish Revival style.
The view from Level 6 overlooks the “field-of-fire” and the rest of Old San Juan.
This big guy was hanging out on Level 6! We have no idea how he got up this high within the fort.
Stay tuned for the rest of Day 2!