Finally, I visited San Juan National Historic Site today. This was the purpose of our trip to Puerto Rico. We waited until today (Saturday) because the rangers offered extra tours and we weren’t disappointed.
Puerto Rico is located in a very strategic spot in the Western Hemisphere. Trade winds blew sailing ships here from Europe. The island was also the first major spot for European ships to resupply with food,water, rest and probably women, though the rangers didn’t say that last one.
Spain got here first and held Puerto Rico for 400 years. From here, they could explore the Western Hemisphere. They found gold, silver, spices and other jewels by the ton.
To help them hold on to Puerto Rico (which means rich port), they built three forts. Castillo San Felipe del Morro was started in 1539 at the headlands of the island. The second magnificent fort, Castillo San Cristobal, was started in 1634 on the east side of San Juan. A third one on the other side of the bay can’t really be visited. The picture above is from Cristobal looking at Fort El Morro.
We spent the day visiting the two forts in Old San Juan. First an orientation by a ranger, as we got there. We climbed up and down the stairs, ramps and circular steps.
Then we took the tunnel tour led by Ranger Jose L. Gonzalez, who was terrific. He took us through a narrow, low tunnel where the Spaniards looked out for enemy ships through slits in the wall. Not a great assignment.
It turns out that Castillo San Cristobal was used in a teenage movie, The Wizard of Waverly Place with Selena Gomez. Since we had a couple of teenage girls on the tour, Ranger Gonzalez pointed out every single place where Selena Gomez stood. The girls were so excited. I guess that’s how you get children interested in national parks.
So the rest of the story.
How did we get from Spanish control to national park? In the Spanish American war of 1898, the US relieved Spain of its remaining colonies: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines. Remember Teddy Roosevelt and San Juan hill? San Juan Hill is in Cuba, not in San Juan. The forts were used in WWII and finally made part of the National Park System in 1949.