A Tale of Two Castles, Visiting Old San Juan Puerto Rico

  • September 23, 2022
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Towering over the city, the ancient battlements stand guard. Construction of these immense forts and walls began in the 1500’s by the Spaniards to protect their treasure ships. They finished over 250 years later. San Juan, Puerto Rico is one of many old fort cities that once dotted the Caribbean. Remnants of the massive walls that once surrounded the city remain visible in many parts of old San Juan. The jewels of the city, Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristobal still loom large. Enter the city by boat and El Morro dominates the horizon. Once docked, a short walk brings guests to San Cristobal. El Morro guarded the bay. Larger and 200 years newer, San Cristobal once guarded the land east of the old city. In the late 1800’s, about a third of San Cristobal was razed to improve traffic flow through the city. The United States added bunkers and artillery during World War 2. Now both castles invite tourists to defend the city with dollars to help keep the economy viable rather than soldiers with weapons repelling the many enemies who threatened the city throughout the centuries.

Both castles are World Heritage Sites, under the protection of the National Park Service. El Morro, as it is referred to, also has a cathedral and an old cemetery with the remains of Ponce de Leon. To the delight of many visitors, iguanas mow the grass at San Cristobal. Quite used to human intrusion, they almost seem to pose for the numerous pictures people take of them.

A stroll through the blue brick cobblestone streets of town reveals colonial architecture, brightly colored buildings, and cats sleeping in fanciful doorways. The blue bricks are a remnant of Spain of the 1800’s. Furnace slag brought over from Spain as ship’s ballast, they make for unique and beautiful streets. Modern cars have some difficulty maneuvering on streets intended for horse and buggy use. They often ride over the curb while turning corners.

Transportation: Your own two feet can get you around Old San Juan if you have the time and the energy. Other options include the hop on, hop off bus, the free Forest Service shuttle, and bike rentals.

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Source by Lois Beath

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