Forts of Old San Juan > Magazine > Attractions/Sights > Puerto Rico

La Fortaleza, JCD
Forts of Old San Juan > Attractions/Sights > Puerto Rico
Imagine yourself as a Spanish diplomat in the year 1650 sent by King Phillip IV of Spain to “San Juan Bautista” in the Spanish colonies to inspect the fortress city. For several weeks you have crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a galleon, crowded with settlers, soldiers, merchants, and products from the Old World for the few thousand residents of San Juan. You arrive at the western shore of the city. In front of you rises the impressive City Wall and atop the wall you see La Fortaleza. Soldiers are patrolling the pier, the city walls and the San Juan Gate. The City Wall has been completed at the east, south and western side of the city. The northern side is still under construction.

You enter the city through the San Juan Gate: With its heavy, 20 ft. high wooden doors it serves as the main entrance to San Juan. It is closed after dark to protect the city and makes the control of newcomers easy. Upon entering, your first order of business is to walk up the Caleta de San José, to the Cathedral de San Juan and give thanks for your safe arrival.

Continue to La Fortaleza: This fortification, built in 1533, is the center of power on the Island as it is the residence of the Island’s administrator Diego de Aguilera y Gamboa. After reporting your arrival and commission from the King, you commence your inspection in earnest.

Inspect Casa Blanca: To get there you cross the oldest part of San Juan, along the narrow streets Recinto, Caleta de San José, Cristo, and Caleta las Monjas. Casa Blanca was the first fortification built in 1521. It originally served as a defense against attacks by the Carib-Indians. At the moment the family of Juan Ponce de León lives here.

Review the City Wall, La Muralla: You walk along Paseo la Princesa to inspect and admire the solid sandstone walls. After the devastating Dutch attack in 1625, it was decided to expand the wall to enclose the entire city. They were built 40ft high and 20ft thick and will be an excellent protection against any further attacks. The walls are nearly completed, only missing the north shore which is naturally protected by its steep cliffs.

Still under construction is the Fuerte San Felipe del Morro: Building started in 1539 to protect the Bay of San Juan. During the 1625 Dutch attack the city was sacked and burnt but El Morro held. Its current structure consists of the water battery and a small tower that fits four cannons. The Spanish architects are faithfully following building plans from mainland Spain and Europe to expand the fort. At the highest point of El Morro you find a breathtaking view of the bay.

Finally you visit the building site of Fuerte de San Cristóbal: It is the eastern outpost of the city. The construction just started in 1634. Spanning 27 acres, it will be the biggest Spanish fort in the colonies. According to the plans you have seen, its interior features an intricate outworks of smaller fortifications, trenches, moats, and tunnels interconnected to form multiple lines of defense.

After this last inspection you go back to the center of town and look for a small restaurant to enjoy the excellent imported Spanish wine and write your report to King Phillip IV stating that the construction and development of the most impressive fortress city outside of Europe is progressing well and will serve Spain for many centuries.
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