Old San Juan
San Juan Travel Blog› entry 8 of 9 › view all entries
December 29th, 2007 – by: Adrian_Liston
We had some trouble getting in touch with the owner of the guest house, but one of the residents let us in so we could lounge around on the roof while we waited. We then set off to explore Fuerte San Felipe de Morro, one of the major Spanish colonial Fortresses of the Americas.
Between our guest house and El Morro lies the Campo del Morro, a large parkland kept bare first for military purposes, later as a gold course, and now as part of the San Juan National Historic Site.
El Morro itself is the fortress occupying the western tip of the Old San Juan peninsular, guarding the entrance into the San Juan Port. The fortress was first fortified in 1521, as San Juan was considered the key to the Caribbean by the Spanish, eager to protect their monopoly over the region. On the ocean side the fortress is 150 feet high, with six levels of fortifications. B its land approach it has a very low profile, designed to give attackers a small target (but still with significant wall height due to the dry moat). The fort also has a small sub-fort across the water, Fort San Juan de la Cruz, designed to allow crossfire at enemy ships entering the bay.
The fort repelled its first serious attack in 1595 by the British under Sir Francis Drake, but fell in 1598 to a second British onslaught. The Spanish regained it after the British were forced to abandon the fort by a dysentery epidemic, and they significantly strengthened it before a major attack by the Dutch in 1625. The Dutch were repelled but were able to burn down the surrounding city. Learning from this attack the Spanish added the fortress of San Cristobal in 1634, the largest Spanish fortress in the New World, guarding the entrance of the peninsular from land attack.
From El Morro we walked into town past the Parque de Beneficencea. We popped into the Catedral de San Juan (which surprised me by having a Christmas tree up inside, a pagan addition to Christmas if ever there was one). We saw La Fortaleza, the oldest continually occupied executive mansion in the Americas, and down the delightful Caleta de San Juan to Puerta de San Juan.
We then walked down the pretty tree-lined avenue of Paseo de la Princesa, with the unpredictable Raices Fountain and La Princesa (once a prison, now an art gallery). Afterwards we had to head back for a nap before tackling Fuerte San Cristobal.
San Cristobal is the eastern edge of the San Juan fortifications. It is essentially a series of bastions built into the city walls, with multiple batteries, ravelins and counterguards built further out as hornwork, interdependent multiple lines of advanced defence. We checked out the heights and tunnels of San Cristbal before having amazing Indo-Latino food for dinner and walking part the festive lights of the city back to our guest house. San Juan was far more beautiful than I had ever expected.
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