2015-03-30 - Part I - Walking around San Juan
My brother and I explored San Juan, primarily the Old San Juan area on Monday, March 30, 2015 by foot. We walked about 12 miles, past three forts and many churches and sculptures. Our first stop was the decrepit but standing San Gerónimo de Boquerón. It is a small fort built in 17th century to replace an older smaller battery that helped repel Sir Francis Drake in 1595 and George Clifford in 1598 who destroyed it. This current fort helped repel British Admiral Henry Harvey and Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1797. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and managed by the Hilton nearby who used to use it for private gatherings but now visitors are no longer allowed.
After leaving the fort, we walked past parks and beaches, construction, and the capital surrounded by protesters and protest signs towards Castillo San Cristobal, which is part of the San Juan Historic Site.
We arrived at Castillo San Cristobal, the massive fortress that “guards the only land access to Old San Juan.” The Spanish had control of San Juan for four hundred years, during which they survived and repelled many attacks from different nations. Castillo San Cristobal was built and enhanced after a land defense was deemed necessary. San Juan was finally conquered by the United States during the Spanish-American War in 1898 that led to the Treaty of Paris signed on December 11, 1898 and effected April 11, 1899. This treaty gave the US: Puerto Rico, parts of the Spanish West Indies, Guam, and the Philippines. It also gave Cuba its freedom from Spain.
We had lunch near the sculpture of Cristobal Colon and then went back to explore the rest of the fort. This fort is characterized by layers after layers of walls and moats. Spanish and later World War II US pill houses could also be seen.
We walked the mile or two from this fort to the other one, passing beautiful coastlines, colorful houses, interesting sculptures, and more construction.
After walking past the Cementerio Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis, we arrived at the five-level Castillo San Felipe del Morro, one of the two forts that guarded the Bar Channel into San Juan. Remnants of its long history can be seen such as a renovated lighthouse and layers upon layers of walls that were added across history. The remnant of a British mortar lies embedded in one room on level two. The ground leading up to the fort had been cleared so that enemies would have nowhere to hide as they advanced. A monument stands, commemorating all sides that died on that battlefield that is now a beautiful lawn.
We bid farewell to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and walked past many sculptures, trees, and cats, to the San Juan Cathedral.
We walked down the street past the San Juan Gate out to the path surrounding parts of the city outside the wall. San Juan Gate is the last remaining standing gate out of the five gates or puertas that allowed access through the three-mile wall that enclosed the city. This gate represented the formal or symbolic entrance that people used to go up the street to San Juan Cathedral. A long diagonal section of the wall was voluntarily destroyed to give San Juan room to expand during Spanish rule. By that time, modern military weapons and tactics had made the walls much less useful.
Leaving the end of the path outside the walls, we walked on the Paseo de la Princesa past the Raices sculptures that represents Puerto Rico. “The island of Puerto Rico sails through the waves like a ship that has at his bow a steed emerging from the sea with a strong and vigorous pace but planted on terra firma, and astride its flanks, a youth who scans the horizon of indelibly beautiful dawns and sunsets…” We saw the Puerto Rican amazon/parrot/iguaca drinking the fountain water. This species used to only live within the tropical rain forests of Puerto Rico, which we visited the day after. We also saw a nice garden.
We walked past several monuments on the long walk back home.
It had been an amazing day and the first out of five during our adventures in Puerto Rico. The rainforest and kayaking through mangrove trees to the bioluminescent bay was next.