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La Garita, a sentry box at El Morro castle, has come to symbolize Puerto Rico and El Viejo San Juan in particular. photo: Bob Curran



San Juan is the OLDEST CITY under the U.S. flag. It was founded in 1511 by Juan Ponce de León. The district that today is known as El Viejo San Juan or Old San Juan was the personal vision of Ponce de León. He helped plot the layout of the city, supervised the construction of its massive walls and determined which structures were to be built and where.

Situated on an easily defensible isthmus, Old San Juan is bounded by two fortresses: El Morro and Fort San Cristóbal. Many of the sites in the Old San Juan area were built in the 1500's and are National Historic Sites as well as World Historic Sites.

Old San Juan was built as a military stronghold. It is a place were you can visit 500 years of history in one day. The area covers 7 square blocks of narrow cobblestone paved streets, lined with centuries old colonial homes with distinct balconies and courtyards; fortresses, and promenade. Old San Juan's forts and city walls are among the best preserved in the hemisphere. The area is dotted with antique homes, churches, and plazas that represent the Caribbean's most priceless architecture. El Viejo San Juan is home to sidewalk cafes, art galleries, museums, and beautifully restored homes giving the area a romantic nostalgic look. Tropical vegetation that includes ferns, bugambillas, palm trees, banana trees, flamboyanes, hibiscus bushes, and the beloved coqui add to that special feel.

En Mi Viejo San Juan


We've had to delete the words to this beautiful song due to copyright laws.

Too bad - some day soon it will be completely forgotten.


The midi was also deleted for the same reasons.


A few of the sites to see in Old San Juan include:

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) - Construction of the castle and fortress was begun in 1533. This is the largest fortress in the Caribbean. It is full of tunnels, dungeons, barracks, outpost, ramps, and sentry posts.

El Palacio de Santa Catalina (La Fortaleza) was built in 1533 as a fortress. La Fortaleza proved to be too small and has since served as the Governor's Mansion. It is the the oldest Governor's Palace still in use in the Western Hemisphere.

Casa Blanca was built for and is the ancestral home of Juan Ponce de León and his family.

El Paseo de la Princesa is a picturesque boulevard that paralleles the ancient walls.

Plaza de Armas is Old San Juan's main square. It was the original training grounds for troops. This 16th-century plaza later became the city's principal social gathering place.

Capilla de Cristo is a charming tiny chapel with an exquisite silver altar that is visible through glass doors. It has it own interesting history.

Quincentennial Plaza was built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Discovery of Puerto Rico.

Cuartel de Ballaja is a historic Spanish military barracks.

The Dominican Convent was built by monks of the Dominican Order in 1523 and is a beautiful example of colonial architecture.

San Jose Church is the second oldest church in the New World.

San Juan Gate is the oldest surviving gate of the San Juan wall and the city's first ceremonial entrance, used whenever high-ranking government or religious officials visited the island.

San Juan Cathedral is Gothic in style and one of only a few examples of authentic medieval architecture still standing in the New World. It is also the resting place of Juan Ponce de León.