Arriving early in San Juan, Puerto Rico with no plan in mind, I went to get a map from tourism office but it wasn’t open. So I walked across the street where the old wall that once surrounded Old San Juan was visible. The three-mile long wall, begun in 1630 and completed in 1790, completely encircled the city at that time.
An old telegraph office, La Casita, sits at the entrance of a lovely walkway and garden, the Paseo de La Princesa. Here, outside the wall, once were docks and warehouses bringing troops and supplies for the thriving city.
At first I thought the Garden of the Princess, constructed on the walkway in 2014, was in honor of a princess. But as I reached the end of the garden, I found “La Princesa,” a temporary penitentiary built in 1837. The building, which housed as many as 240 people, was used as the local jail until 1960. It in turn, took its name from the walkway. I never did learn who the princess was.
Across the water is the small fort San Juan de La Cruz. Its cannon, with those in El Morro, the towering fort at the entrance to the bay, would place enemy ships in a cross fire.
Puerto Rico is the “rich port.” At the end of the trade winds, it was the place to stop to resupply before going to the Americas. It was the place to stop before taking the riches of the Americas back to Europe. San Juan was named after St. John the Baptist. From the 1500s through the 1800s, dignitaries, merchants and common people entered the old city through the San Juan Gate. Cargo entered the city through another gate closer to La Princesa.
After passing the San Juan Gate, I walked along the Paseo Del Morro National Trail, constructed and maintained by the National Park Service. The trail, now three-quarters of a mile long, is part of a planned set of trails which will eventually stretch to Capitol Plaza about a mile to the east of the current terminus.
Looking out at the water, my first instinct is to view it as an artist, to look at the patterns, the shapes, the color and to try to frame it in my eye. But the signs along the way call to my imagination. Imagine builders sweating in the heat for one hundred and sixty years to place those stones in the wall. Imagine countless people of all types passing through that gate, most without thought to the gate but only to where they had been and where they were going.Look at the water, the channel into to the natural harbor. First Americans undoubtedly plied their canoes here. Columbus sailed in the area, claimed the island for Spain and may have even anchored here. Ponce de León , seeker of the Fountain of Youth, who was wounded in battle in Florida not far from where I write this, was the first governor of Puerto Rico. English explorer and privateer Francis Drake attacked the city here but was driven away by El Morro’s cannon.
Now cruise ships arrive full of people with thoughts of palm trees, rum and dancing.
Click on photos to enlarge.