Old San Juan is full of cats. You have to be very careful not to step on a cat when walking around looking up at old historical buildings, for the cats, like shadows, blend with the cobblestones paving the narrow streets of the old city.
Founded by the Spanish colonist Juan Ponce de Leon in 1521 on the north-eastern coast of the island, San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico is the capital of Puerto Rico and the second oldest European capital city in the New World after Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
Enclosed by massive stone walls at the mouth of San Juan Bay, Old San Juan is today a major cultural tourist destination attracting visitors with its ancient two-storied houses, a network of narrow streets covered by adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag brought over as ballast on Spanish ships, historical buildings housing museums and cultural organizations, public squares, and cathedrals.
But the most important buildings declared National Historic Sites here are the city’s former defense forts: Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristobal, a part of humanity’s cultural patrimony.
Built by the Spanish government in the 16th and 17th century the two forts defended this important seaport used by merchant and military ships traveling between Spain and the Americas against foreign powers.
Battles of San Juan
Many battles took place outside the stone walls of these ancient forts, battles of epic proportions. In 1595 Sir Francis Drake attacked the city but the El Morro’s canons repelled the English battleships.
In 1625 the city was assaulted by the Dutch but El Morro withstood once more and was not taken. Instead, a counterattack left many Dutch soldiers dead after Puerto Rican soldiers and civilian volunteers of the city militia boarded and defeated the Dutch ships.
In 1797, during the French Revolutionary Wars, the British attacked San Juan once again but the siege of the city was unsuccessful and the British army was forced to withdraw in defeat for a second time.
Finally, in May of 1898 United States Navy ships arrived at San Juan Bay. The American bombardment caused a lot of destruction on the city, but the Spanish forces commanded by Captain Mendez heroically withstood the attack for many days. Yet, with just one signature, Spain ceded the island to the United States after the Treaty of Paris agreement. Puerto Rico became and remains to this day an unincorporated territory of the United States.
During the next century, many uprisings against the United States occurred in different places in Puerto Rico all by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, and failed. One of the most notable ones is the uprising in San Juan on October 30, 1950. A group of nationalists attacked the residence of the Puerto Rican governor and the United States Federal Court House. The battle between the nationalists and the police lasted 15 minutes and four of the five attackers were killed.
Walking next to the stone walls all around the small island looking at the bay, and through the narrow streets of Old San Juan stepping on the blue cobblestones from the Spanish colonial era, roaming inside the dark humid corridors of El Morro and Fort San Felipe is an unforgettable journey back in history and our best experience in Puerto Rico.