Strolling down the streets of old San Juan, Puerto Rico, you are transported back to the time of the conquistadors and the architecture of Andalusia in southern Spain.
San Juan was Spain’s major center of commerce and military power in the Caribbean for almost four centuries. It was the last safe port for the galleons headed back to Spain laden with gold, and the main re-supply port of ships entering from Europe.
The city’s military heritage is displayed in several architectural treasures.
- The El Morro Fortress—The El Morro stands guard over the San Juan Bay. It is built in the shape of an irregular polygon as it is adapted to the shape of the rocks it was built on. The fortress has three bastions linked by curtain walls and casemented barracks. This six level citadel includes a chapel, officers’ quarters, stables and dungeons.
- La Fortaleza is another example of Spanish military architecture. As the first fortification in San Juan Harbor, it was built in 1533 to protect the Spanish settlers from attacks of the Carib Indians. The original fort consisted of a circular tower and four massive stone walls. A second tower was added at the end of the 16th century. Today it is the official residence of the governor of Puerto Rico.
- The Paseo de La Princesa has been restored to its original 19th century splendor. At the end of the promenade is a restored prison, La Princesa. While this prison was designed for military use, its architectural beauty is notable. It features huge mahogany doors, impressive arcades, polished floors and elegant appointments.
Outside of the military presence, the architecture of Puerto Rico reflects classical, medieval and even baroque styles in the churches. The San Jose church is considered to be one of the finest and oldest examples of Gothic-influenced religious architecture built by the Spanish in the New World. The San Juan Cathedral is built in the Gothic-
Neoclassical style that shelters vaulted towers. While somewhat plain in comparison to other cathedrals, the stained glass windows are remarkably beautiful.
Cobblestone streets lead you between buildings that display classic Puerto Rican architecture. Buildings of pastel colors display ornate balconies, heavy wooden doors, stucco garlands, colored glass and tiled roofs. Once inside you are often welcomed by an open courtyard, cooled by fountains and tropical plants.
Homes in Puerto Rico celebrate both modernism and its Caribbean heritage. Homes architecturally reflect a serenity that comes from being in a coastal environment. Combining comfort with relaxed elegance, living here reflects openness to the sea. Vibrant colors, plants, fountains, archways and tall windows capture the feel of island living. Furnishings for the home may reflect the Spanish heritage, or may have a modern feel. But all should be designed to blend with the aesthetic feel of Puerto Rico’s heritage.
Whether it is with the architecture of the military fortresses, the churches, buildings or homes of Puerto Rico, you are sure to be impressed with all that Puerto Rico has to offer.