Puerto Rico: The Perfect Blend

Puerto Rico's capital city is a compelling blend of modern metropolis and historic sites. Within the modern urban city, Old San Juan is a seven-square-block treasure trove of history and culture. Founded in 1521, Old San Juan is the oldest capital city under the U.S. flag.

Designated both a National Historic Site and a World Heritage Site, it is a charming maze of hilly, cobblestoned streets lined with some 800 Spanish colonial buildings and fortifications.

Following are some of the major attractions in Old San Juan.

  • Fuerte San Felipe del Morro. Known as El Morro, this fort sits on a rocky promontory overlooking the entrance to San Juan Bay. It was constructed by the Spanish from 1540 to 1586 as a defense against invasion by English explorer and privateer Sir Francis Drake. Visitors can see a labyrinth of dungeons, barracks, vaults, lookouts and ramps, as well as stunning views of the Caribbean.
  • Fuerte San Cristobal. One of the largest defenses ever built in the Americas, this fort lies in the northeast corner of Old San Juan. With walls rising more than 100 feet above the sea, it is connected to El Morro by half a mile of massive stone walls filled with cannon-firing positions.
  • Casa Blanca. This is Puerto Rico's "white house," the family home of the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. Built in 1521, the mansion is the oldest continuously occupied residence in the Western Hemisphere. The structure recently underwent a $275,000 restoration by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
  • It now houses two museums: the Juan Ponce de Leon Museum on the lower level, which contains antiques, paintings and artifacts from the 16th through 18th centuries, and the Taino Indian Ethno Historic Museum on the upper level, which recreates the life and culture of the Tainos, Puerto Rico's original inhabitants.

  • La Fortaleza. The official residence and office of Puerto Rico's governor, La Fortaleza is the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. Built in 1540, its original medieval-style towers remain, but because the structure was enlarged, other architectural styles were introduced, including baroque, gothic and neoclassical.
  • La Casa de Libro. This restored 19th-century building houses a museum and library dedicated to printing and bookmaking. It includes a significant collection of books printed before 1500 and documents signed by Ferdinand and Isabella.
  • Casa de los Contrafuertes. Dating from the 18th century, this building is believed to be the oldest private residence remaining in Old San Juan. Its second floor houses the Latin American Graphic Arts Museum and Gallery and the first floor is home to the Pharmacy Museum, a recreated 19th-century drugstore.
  • El Arsenal. This former Spanish naval station overlooking San Juan Bay was constructed around 1800. Now a center for cultural activities, the building features exhibits in three galleries.
  • Cuartel de Ballaja. These military barracks were the largest structures built by the Spanish in the New World. The building is now home to one of San Juan's major museums, the Museo de las Americas. It showcases the work of artisans from North, South and Central America, archaeological finds and paintings by artists from throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
  • Museo de Pablo Casals. This small 18th-century house on the Plaza de San Jose houses a collection of memorabilia from Pablo Casals, Puerto Rico's famed cellist, conductor and composer. Casals' cello is here, along with a library of videotapes of some of his concerts, photographs and manuscripts.
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    For More Information

    Casa Blanca: (787) 724-4102
    Casa de las Contrafuertes: (787) 724-5477
    Cuartel de Ballaja: (787) 724-5052
    El Arsenal: (787) 724-5949
    Fuerte San Cristobal: (787) 729-6960
    Fuerte San Felipe del Morro: (787) 729-6960
    La Casa del Libro: (787) 723-0354
    La Fortaleza: (787) 721-7000
    Museo de Pablo Casals: (787) 723-9185.

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