{ Old San Juan Fort San Cristobal }

We spent Thursday taking a self guided tour of Old San Juan. There is so much history here, and such beautiful buildings and cobblestone streets, after leaving I felt like I needed at least another day and a half to take it all in. We took a shuttle from our resort that morning, and as we drove into San Juan we were somewhat grateful after seeing the horrendous traffic there. My feeling of avoiding the traffic were a bit diminished when we realized that we only had about 3 1/2 hours left to tour the whole city. We didn’t realize there was so much to see in this 7 block by 7 block area. We decided on the self guided tour so we could wander as we would like, and after our great tour guide to the rainforest gave us a wonderful history lesson on the bus ride that day, we felt like the rest we could see on our own. Looking back, I realize how much more I should have read up on beforehand because we still missed a lot of things. Note to self, bring good travel guide book next time.

Puerto Rico means “rich port” and was one of the stops that Christopher Columbus made on one of his seven voyages to the Americas. He stopped here in 1493 where he was met by the native Indians called the Tainos, and named the island San Juan Bautista after the Saint John the Baptist. In 1508 Juan Ponce de Leon founded the original settlement of Caparra, which is a settlement west of the current day San Juan. In 1509 the settlement was abandoned and moved to the present day San Juan area. They called the town Puerto Rico in 1521, and then later changed the name to San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, which after much confusion they finally named the town San Juan, and the island Puerto Rico.

San Juan, as a Spanish settlement, was used by merchant and military ships traveling from Spain as the first stopover in the Americas. Because of its prominence in the Caribbean, a network of fortifications was built to protect the transport of gold and silver from the New World to Europe. Because of all the riches, San Juan became a target of the foreign powers at the time.

One of our first stops in Old San Juan was to see Castillo de San Cristobal, a Spanish fort built to protect against land based attacks against San Juan. It is the largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World and when it was finished in 1783, it covered nearly 27 acres and basically wrapped around the whole city of San Juan. After about a hundred years of peace in 1897, about a third of it was demolished to help ease the flow of traffic in the area. What was left was amazing to walk through. A view from the Plaza Colon looking out at the fort.

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The fort is now one of the San Juan National Historic sites, and was open for us to tour through. The outside fort wall, and stairs to a lookout on the top of the wall.

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The opening into a part of the fort. It was super dark in there even with the addition of a few modern lights. It was crazy to think how pitch black it would have been at some times in there, especially in some of the dungeons.

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There were original wall drawings there, that had been beautifully preserved, of the ships of Columbus during his voyages. It happened to be in one of the dungeons that were there, which was a little creepy, but also quite amazing that such drawings had lasted and were in such great shape.

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There were multiple levels and lookouts all over the fort. We wandered around, popping in and out of the many towers and hideouts. No matter where you were though, the views facing the ocean were beautiful. The fort was built up on a cliff with a great view so as to spot any ship from a far ways out. It was built in such a way that no ship would be able to dock and take over the city. Here is the roof top level looking out to the sea.

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And behind us looking into the city of San Juan. You can see in the distance the piers in the bay where ships can dock and unload goods, or stop at port like the cruise ship there.

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All on top of the fort were these thick walled walkways that led from one part of the fort to another. As we were walking along I had a hard time imaging someone building this without any modern machines like we have, everything was just so massive. You can sort of see how thick the walls were and how they got thicker as the wall went down to the ground. They would have big cutouts in the wall to fit a cannon through and still have large amount of wall before the edge. I think the wall in those areas were almost 8 feet wide.

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A tower that was located seaside. You can see the tiny long slits that were located in the wall for them to have as lookouts. These happen to be vertical slits, but some of the ones built later were long horizontal slits they could fit their guns through.

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Some views of Old San Juan out of the other lookouts. Absolutely gorgeous. I think I would have liked the job of being a lookout had I lived back then-though I am sure I would have been lost in thought as I gazed out over all of this. I can see why the Spanish wanted this land-so beautiful.

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The tower in the right side of this picture is the one we were standing in. The walls that were built down to the ocean were crazy steep.Not an edge you would want to fall off of. It made it almost impossible for anyone to attack the fort from landing on the shore and trying to climb the wall.

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Down one level from the roof was a courtyard level that had beautiful arched corridors that surrounded it, and doors that led to various rooms. The middle courtyard was used for training of the soldiers and served as a local meeting area. LOVE that old patina on the side of the walls, and all the old doors and shutters.

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