Puerto Rico
Old San Juan
Walking Tour Part 1
The "garitas" or sentry boxes have become the country's national symbol.

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Old San Juan Landmarks & Attractions

1. El Morro Fortress:
Begun in 1540, the great fort rises 6 stories and 140 feet above the pounding sea. El Morro underwent many modifications until 1783, when it became the formidable structure standing today.

Although impenetrable from attack by sea (Sir Francis Drake failed in 1595), it was taken by land attack by the Earl of Cumberland in 1598. He held the fortress only temporarily, leaving when the bottom fell out in a dysentery epidemic.

Both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site, El Morro is administered by the U.S. National Park Service. Orientation and slide programs are offered daily. With budget cutbacks, its opening times keep getting later; these days it's somewhere around 9, open until 6; check by calling 787/729-6536.

El Morro makes a wonderful silhouette for sunset photographs with the sun behind one of the guard towers.

2. San Juan Cemetery : Adjacent to El Morro and visible from its ramparts. Besides being the burial place of many prominent Puerto Ricans, it is an impressive display of elaborate tombstones surrounding a circular neoclassic chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene in 1863. Near one of the poorer sections of the city, it is considered safe to visit only in groups. A view from a hill or El Morro is just as appealing.

The cemetery is flanked by a section of the massive city wall that completely surrounded Old San Juan in the 1630s. The city wall consisted of 2 separate 40-foot-high, parallel limestone-block walls with the space in between filled with sand.

To discourage attackers, the exterior face was slanted, varying from 20 feet wide at the base, to only 12 feet at the top. "Garitas," tiny rounded sentry posts that have become the symbol of Puerto Rico, still line the top.

The wall was patrolled night and day, and every evening at sundown the 6 city gates were closed to completely cut off access to the city.

   3. San Juan Museum of Art and History: On Norzagaray, corner of McArthur. Built in 1855 as a marketplace, it was used in the early 20th century for government offices before being turned into a cultural center in 1979. It has been undergoing extensive repair.   

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