Old San Juan Architecture

The Columbus Quincentennial in 1992 sparked a major refurbishing of the colonial architecture of Puerto Rico. The island’s architectural heritage is Spanish, of course, as seen in the narrow, winding cobblestone streets and the pastel-colored, tile-roofed buildings with ornate balconies and heavy wooden doors that open onto inner courtyards in the style of Andalusia in southern Spain.

Spain ordered that the city be protected by sandstone walls and massive fortresses, since the island was the first port of call for galleons entering the West Indies and the last safe harbor for ships, laden with treasures, making the return trip to Cadíz or Seville. Because Old San Juan had no space for expansion, new buildings had to be erected to the east of the old town, in what is known today as the modern city of San Juan. Thus, most of the old structures have survived more or less since the 16th-century. The most notable of these include El Morro Fortress, the San Juan Cathedral, and the Dominican ConventCasa Blanca, a mansion built for the island’s first governor, Ponce de León, still stands.

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