Bienvenido a Puerto Rico! (Welcome to Puerto Rico!)
Betty and I stepped off our cruise ship, the Paradise, just to look around. A taxi driver saw us and came over and said he would give us an hour tour of Old San Juan for $30. There was time, so off we went.
San Juan is the capital and largest city in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States. “Old San Juan,” was the original colonial settlement with narrow, blue cobblestone streets. The cobblestones were furnace slag used by the Spanish as ballast on their ships.
We had no idea that Old San Juan contained so many museums and historical sites. San Juan was founded by Spanish colonists led by Ponce de León in 1521, who called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico (“Rich Port City”). Ponce de Leon was appointed the first governor of Puerto Rico. One historical site is the Casa Blanca, (White house). Built in 1521, it served as the first fortification of the San Juan islet, and was the residence for Ponce de León and his family.
In 1493, during his second voyage to The New World, Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico. He named the island “San Juan Bautista” in honor of John the Baptist.(Saint John) One of the museums in San Juan is the Casa del Libro (House of the Book). It is an 18th-century house that is now a book museum holding a rare collection of early manuscripts and books (nearly 5,000 works), dating back to the 15th-century. Among the museum’s most precious possessions are two royal mandates signed by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1493 for provisioning Columbus’ fleet for his second voyage.
The imposing Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or el Morro, a 6-story-tall complex with 65-foot-high, 18-foot-thick walls rising 150 feet above the Atlantic Ocean, protected the harbor. San Cristobal, another immense fortress, built to protect the city from attacks on land, is a prime example of Spanish colonial military architecture. The forts did the job and repulsed numerous attacks.
We were able to see el Morro from a distance from the taxi, but we drove up to the entrance ramp of San Cristobal.
Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States at the end of the Spanish American War in 1898. Because Spain was able to maintain control of Puerto Rico so long, the population is mainly hispanic, and the country has two official languages of Spanish and English.
Our driver ended our tour by driving down the very narrow, colorful main street of Old San Juan. The street was jammed bumper-to-bumper with slow moving cars carrying tourists leaning out windows to take pictures.
Whenever I rolled down the window to take a picture, the driver turned off the air conditioning and moaned about the heat, because it was a hot day!
After that slow ride through town, I was glad we got back to the ship before departure time.