J U A N PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE PUERTO RICO TOURISM COMPANY
S A N
THE WALLED CITY by Gerald Zarr
If the explorers had had their way, you would be visiting the city of Puerto Rico on the island of San Juan, rather than San Juan on the island of Puerto Rico. San Juan’s high, protective wall still surrounds much of the city.
Columbus landed on the beautiful island in 1493 and named it San Juan Bautista
switched the names in the 16th century,
hub for the export of New World riches
and it's stayed that way ever since.
and a magnet for the British, Dutch and
(Saint John the Baptist). In 1511, Ponce de León named the town Puerto Rico. An unknown mapmaker seems to have
French privateers or pirates who sought
BEGINNINGS As the second-oldest city in the Americas, San Juan is known as La
A passageway inside the fort
fame and fortune. And their motherlands lusted for the most lucrative piece of real estate in the Western Hemisphere.
Ciudad Amurallada (“the walled city”),
With all this attention, it’s surprising
because of its massive encircling stone
how infrequently the city was overrun.
wall anchored by two mighty forts,
The British managed to seize and burn
El Morro and San Cristóbal; the wall was
San Juan in 1598, but dysentery did them
started in 1539 and not finished until 1782.
in. On their heels, the Dutch attacked
Up until 1897, the city was accessible
in 1625 but were overcome by disease
only through five enormous, heavily
as well and had to retreat.
guarded wooden doors that closed at nightfall.
18TH-CENTURY IRISH INTERLUDE
SPAIN’S NEIGHBORS COME CALLING
the 18th century, Puerto Ricans became
As Spain’s prominence declined in resentful of getting so little return on their
The wall was not merely for show.
labor for the Spanish. Islanders were not
San Juan Bay soon became the central
allowed to participate in government, and
1112 POC San Juan.indd 458
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