Cheers to 500 Years: San Juan Celebrates a Major Milestone in its Long History

Puerto Rico is known for its amazing views, pristine beaches and wonderful waves, but did you know Puerto Rico is also home to the oldest city in the United States? Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, is the oldest city in America and recently celebrated its 500th anniversary. While the anniversary festivities are over, you can still take the time to celebrate this historic gem on your trip to Puerto Rico.

History of San Juan

According to Discover Puerto Rico, “San Juan” (or – more precisely – San Juan Bautista) was the name of the island of Puerto Rico, while “Puerto Rico” was the name of the islet now known as San Juan. Initially, the city’s first inhabitants lived in a town seven miles away known as Villa Caparra. Residents of Caparra, who were governed by Juan Ponce de León, eventually insisted that the settlement be moved to the islet, and in 1521 the Spanish Crown authorized the settlement to move. From there, the city of Old San Juan became established and still serves as an important, historical city today.

Points of Interest in Old San Juan

Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro)

(Castillo San Felipe del Morro, photo courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico, the official tourism website for Puerto Rico)

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or El Morro, is one of the most well-known and well-preserved Spanish fortifications in the Americas. Sitting at the Bay of San Juan, facing the Atlantic Ocean, El Morro consists of six levels designed to create an impenetrable artillery fire over enemy ships, according to the National Park Service. Construction began on the fort in 1539 (18 years after the establishment of Old San Juan) and was completed in 1790. During that time, the fort protected the city – and the island – from invasions by Dutch and British forces. Following the Spanish-American War, possession of Puerto Rico was turned over to the United States, and the United States updated the fort as an active military base in World War I and II. Finally, in 1961, El Morro was officially retired from military use and was turned over to the National Park Service, and in 1983, El Morro was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the opposite side of the city lies Castillo San Cristobal, a fort designed to protect San Juan from land-based attacks.

The Gate of Old San Juan

(The Gate of Old San Juan, photo courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico, the official tourism website for Puerto Rico)

The last remaining gate of Old San Juan, the Gate of Old San Juan, or La Puerta de San Juan, was originally the formal entrance to the city, reserved for special or important visitors. The other gates were used for regular movement in and out of the city. Nonetheless, the splendor of the gate is still evident, the promenade leading up to the gate, el Paseo de la Princesa, features lovely sculptures, fountains and views of the bay. Inscribed above the gate is the Latin phrase, “Benedictus Qui Venit In Nomine Domini,” or Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord, a symbol of the Spanish Catholic roots of the city.

Cuartel de Ballaja

(Cuartel de Ballaja, photo courtesy of the Museum of the Americans/Museo de las Americas)

Cuartel de Ballaja was built between 1854 and 1864 by the Spanish as barracks, according to ballajá. Following the Spanish-American War, the United States also used the Ballaja Barracks for military purposes until 1939 when it began to be used as a hospital. Today, Cuartel de Ballaja is an important cultural space, with a coffee shop, movie theater and restaurant on the first floor and the Museum of the Americas on the second floor.

For the history buff in your life, Old San Juan is a must-see during your trip to Puerto Rico. Maria’s offers the perfect oasis for anyone that wants to see all that Puerto Rico has to offer, away from the hustle and bustle of San Juan.

When you’re ready to stay with us, booking is done through Twin Palms, Maria’s rental, and onsite management. Please visit our booking page on this website to view the availability of Maria’s and fill out our convenient contact form. If you have any additional questions regarding Maria’s, you may call Elizabeth at 787-685-6648 (español: Cristina at 787-449-3673).