The capital city of Puerto Rico, San Juan was among the first American cities founded by the Europeans. Locally called ‘La Ciudad Amurallada’ (Walled city) owing to the fortifications, built by the native Spanish- that partially surround the city. An architectural hub in itself, the city’s history is revealed in the Colonial, Gothic, Neoclassical and Baroque styled structures that define its urban landscape. Divided into two zones- the Old San Juan that boasts a variety of historical attractions (forts and plazas), and the New San Juan which reflects modernization with latest built structures, San Juan is rightly called San Juan is ‘A City of Contrasts’.

A visit to San Juan’s would seem like experiencing two distinct destinations, five centuries apart, yet existing cohesively.

San Juan ©www.booking.co
San Juan ©rustourismnews.com

1. EL MORRO CASTLE

This 16thCentury citadel acted as the guarded entrance to the Spanish Colonial port from the enemies. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a stone fortress with tunnel-mazes barracks and outposts that all created a formidable defence during its use. Even after numerous repairs and restorations, the fort stands strong and offers magnificent views of the Atlantic Sea.

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Circular sentry boxes- Garitas ©globotreks.com
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El Morro surounded by natural views ©discoverpuertorico.com
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Thick-fortifying walls of the fort ©discoverpuertorico.com
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Garita contrasted with the complex shapes of thick walls.©globotreks.com
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Entrance to El Morro ©globotreks.com
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El Morro, by the sea ©afar.com

2. SAN CRISTOBAL FORT

This defensive fort for the city was inspired by the designs of 17th century Vauban-style fortresses of France. Built over a period of 150 years, the structure contains dungeons, moat, secret tunnels, observation towers and an elaborate system for rainwater collections, far ahead of its time.

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Underground tunnels inside the fort ©theculturetrip.com
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The ‘Devil’s Guerite’ at San Cristobal’s ©wikipedia.org
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Fort structure, in present ©commons.wikimedia.org
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Entrance to San Cristobal fort ©nps.gov
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Aerial view of Castle of San Cristobal ©footage.framepool.com

3. LA FORTALEZA

Characterised by its Classical-Revivalist architectural style and originally serving as a fortress and a prison, La Fortaleza is currently the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. The initial constructions and preservations are still evident in parts of the complex, that also houses some living quarters and private gardens within itself.

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The fort in the backdrop of the city ©ttnotes.com
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Old San Juan’s roads leading to the Governor’s Palace entrance ©flickr.com
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La Fortaleza as seen from the sea ©whc.unesco.org
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Classical styled facade of the Governor’s Palace ©flickr.com

4. ALCALDIA CITY HALL

The present day building is a result of a series of renovations and repairs to match the façade and its twin turrets to the exact replica at Madrid, Spain. The structure now houses the office of the Mayor of the city and hosts periodic art and tourism exhibitions. Clearly, the City Hall building adds a colourful touch to the Plaza space surrounding it.

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The ‘colourful’ City hall of San Juan ©flickr.com
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The archway adjoining the streets, Alcaldia ©dreamstime.com
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The Alcaldia of San Juan ©ttnotes.com
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Stained glass work inside ©flickr.com

5. SAN JOSE CHURCH

Also called the Iglesia de Santo Tomás de Aquino, this cathedral is one of the primitive examples of Gothic-influenced religious architecture built in Old San Juan, by the Spanish. Sustaining numerous transformations from neoclassical to colonial and finally to gothic architectural style, the Church stands out for it’s rich historical background as well as unprecedented monumental work.

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The present altar of San Jose church ©tenerife.com
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Nave of San Jose church source wikimedia.commons.org
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Gothic-styled ribbed vaulting inside the church ©picryl.com
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Entrance to the church ©pinterest.com

 6. CASA BLANCA MUSEUM

The original wooden building, though now destroyed and rebuilt in stone, was the Governor’s residence which was later converted into the current museum, wherein each room has been designed to look and feel exactly like it would have during the 17thCentury. Literally a place to ‘Experience Architecture’, this museum is a must visit by architecture lovers!

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Wooden ceiling and ancient lighting piece ©com
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Museum’s dining space ©com
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Museum space decorated to look like a Spanish Residence ©tripadvisor.co.in
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Entrance verandah to the museum ©com
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‘Bedroom’ of the museum ©thoughtandsight.com
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A Typical Pureto Rican kitchen ©thoughtandsight.com

7. BALLAJA BARRACKS

An example of Spanish Military architecture, the Barracks Quarters are a three-storeyed structure, built around a central courtyard that was initially meant to house the Puerto Rican soldiers and their families. Distinctively recognised by it’s rows of horizontal arches, the building currently houses museums and similar organisations.

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The Miitaaary Barrackks, lit-up at night ©tripadvisor.com
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The Barrack Quarters, around a courtyaard ©theculturetrip.com
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Corridors inside the Ballaja Barracks ©fineartamerica.com
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Aerial View of the Cuartel de Ballaja, with it’s green roof and solar panels (a latest addition) ©archinect.com

 8. SAN JUAN BAUTISTA CATHEDRAL

Ravaged and remoulded several times, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista that stands today is a confluence of various architectural styles including Renaissance and Neoclassical styles. Considered as one of the oldest churches in the sub-continent, the cathedral might not be too visually appealing, but holds a far greater historical importance.

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The main Altar ©commons.wikimedia.org
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Nave of the Cathedral of San Juan ©flickr.com
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Main entrance to the Church ©travelblog.org
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Intricate ceiling work inside the Cathedral ©wondermondo.com
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Exterior view of the Cathdral ©thecompletepilgrim.com

9. SAN GERÓNIMO FORT

The Fort, though small in size, is situated perfectly between land and the sea. The stone structure enjoys the benefits of its location and offers scenic views all around. Originally constructed in the early 16thCentury as a defensive settlement, the conditions of the structure have deteriorated in the present times.

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The San Geronimo Fort ©ttnotes.com
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Stone bridge with abutments connecting the fort and the land ©puertoricodaytrips.com
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Present conditions of the Fort structure ©puertoricodaytrips.com
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A Fort between the land and the sea ©flickr.com

10. EL CAPITOLIO

Designed by a local Architect Rafael Carmoega, the Capitol Building is located in the Old part of San Juan and is in stark contrast to the other coloured-block buildings. Portraying Neoclassical-Revivalist style, the marble building is topped by a rotunda, and supported by circular columns, raised over a series of marble steps.

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The marble steps and the coloumns ©encirclephotos.com
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The El Capitolio building standing between old and new San Juan ©google.images.om
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The Capitol’s Rotunda as viewd from inside ©cityseeker.com
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The Capitol Building of Pureto Rico ©cfo.com

11. JOSE V. TOLEDO FEDERAL BUILDING

This three-storeyed Courthouse building showcases a sophisticated and harmonious blend of the Spanish Colonial Revival style with Classical details that are an ode to the traditional architecture of the country and the prevalent style used in federal government buildings of the era. The current structure is a result of a meticulous restoration done by the government in the late 1990s.

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The original Jose V.Tolde Federal Courthouse building ©prb.uscourts.gov
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The Federal courthouse building, after modern renovations ©org
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The Federal Courhouse and U.S. Post office building ©gsa.gov
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Earlierst photos of the Courthouse building ©prb.uscourts.gov

12. CASA DE LOS CONTRAFUERTES

The ‘House of Buttress’ as it is called, is a traditionally built Spanish-styled residence from the 1700s. Converted into a museum and an art gallery now, the house still bears its original colonial architectural features and furnishings that take the visitor back in time, upon entering the property.

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The gift shop inside the House of Buttresses ©la-casa-de-los-contrafuertes.business.site
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Decorations and displays inside La Casa De Los Contrafuertes ©la-casa-de-los-contrafuertes.business.site.com
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Colonial themed interiors of the House of the Buttresses ©puertoricoartnews.com
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Casa de los contrafuertes ©prpop.org

13. DOMINICAN CONVENT CHURCH

The ancient building, established in the 1500s is a small chapel and a museum that displays various historical and religious artifacts. In addition to the artifacts, the building itself holds a magnificent grandeur for it’s authentic 16th Century Spanish Architectural style.

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Vaulted corridors of the Convent ©dreamstime.com
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The Dominician Convent building ©puertoricobygps.com
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Central courtyard of the Dominician Convent ©com

14. PASEO DE LA PRINCESA

Named as ‘One of the Most Scenic Walkways in the World’, it is a beautiful example of how San Juan’s architecture can also be found in pathways and landscapes. Lined with antique street lamps, sculptures, fountains, exotic trees and historic buildings on the sides, this avenue is literally a walk down the city’s memory lane.

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The historic Prison building by the walkway ©prhbds.org
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Ideal evening walk ©mapio.net
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Fountain at the Paseo de la Princesa ©barclaycardtravel.com
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A 19th-century esplanade adjacent to the city walls ©flickr.com

15. MSEO DE ARTE DE PUERTO RICO

The Museum of Art of Puerto Rico (MAPR) is one of the most prestigious art museums in Puerto Rico. The Georgian-Neoclassical building houses an elaborate collection of art pieces from the 16th and 17th Century. A popular tourist attraction, the building also contains a display gallery with floor-to-floor windows, beautiful garden filled with a variety of native flora, 400-seat theatre, an atrium and a restaurant.

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The Museum de Arts Puerto Rico ©viator.com
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The entrance to the museum ©discoverpuertorico.com
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The displays inside ©bienvenidospuertorico.net
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Double-heighted gallery space inside the museum  ©httpttnotes.com

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Sandhya is a connoisseur of art, a performing Bharatnatyam artist, with a passion for architecture. An avid reader and an admirer of books, she believes writing to be a fascinating manner of adding value to anything. With a curious mind, and an ecstatic soul, Sandhya loves to find the joy amidst the smallest things.

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