I am a firm believer that cityscape of any town directly corresponds to the nature and inner world of its dwellers. A few hours of interacting with sanjuaneros was enough to see how welcoming, joyful and laid-back Puerto Ricans are. The city and those living here are full of character and zest for life. And this is very well reflected on the facades of the city as well which can be described as a rainbow feast of historic architecture.
Showcasing almost 500 years of history, the streetscape of San Juan Viejo is dotted with beautifully restored Spanish colonial facades dating back to 16th and 17th century.
The city was founded in 1509 by the explorer Juan Ponce de León who originally established a colony in an area now known as Caparra, southeast of present-day San Juan. He later moved the settlement north to a more hospitable peninsular location.
Defended by the imposing Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and Castillo San Cristóbal, Puerto Rico’s administrative and population center remained firmly in Spain’s hands until 1898, when it came under U.S. control after the Spanish-American War. Centuries of Spanish rule left an indelible imprint on the city, particularly in the walled area of Old San Juan.
Spanish colonial buildings with tiled roofs, ornate balconies, and architectural flourishes are awash in candy-colored shades.
By the way, the coffee house Caficultura pictured above allegedly has one of the best coffees in Old San Juan and offers delicious cocina de mercado. Unfortunately, they were under renovation during my visit so I never got a chance to sample their brews. However, I still managed to snap a photo of their famous magnificent antique chandelier!
Spy patches of beautiful blue cobblestones on the ground, which were brought as ballast on European ships in the 1700s. In the noonday sun, they glisten—and vary in tone, from light sky blue to dark denim.
Nothing beats leisurely roaming through the winding backstreets and plazas dotted throughout the old town to experience the affable presence of the locals.
The metal gates, balconies and doors are so ornately crafted.
It’s worth noting that the present state of Old San Juan is hugely attributed to the efforts of an anthropologist by the name of Ricardo Alegría. By 1940s San Juan had turned into a decrepit and unsightly state and politicians called for the historic old buildings to be smashed to make way for sleek, modern ones. Alegría convinced the authorities to preserve the beautiful colonial architecture of Old San Juan and it was revitalized in alignment with its colonial Spanish architectural roots. The 7-mile-square city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.
And because all the colorful streets were not enough, I have to spruce up my post with a few more tropical palettes of my new friends! ;)
As you can tell, I fell irrevocably in love with this vibrant and colorful city. I certainly hope to come back some day and explore it further. This is certainly a great vacation destination.
Have you been to San Juan? Share your stories in the comments!