Walking Tour: Old San Juan Part 2/4

Posted on 22 April 2009 by GSV

For Part 1 of the Old San Juan Walking Tour, click here. We’ve already seen Old San Juan’s southwestern quarter and it’s host of plazas and monuments. As we travel towards the city’s northern coast we will find all sorts of specialized museums, historical buildings, streets lined with bars and restaurants, and, of course, the island’s most visited site. So let’s continue with the second part of our Walking Tour, shall we? As Far as Sequels Go (Leg 2 of 4) By now you’ve soaked up all the spectacular views from Plazuela de La Rogativa and you’re feeling refreshed and energized to continue with your exploration of the city. Head north on Calle Las Monjas (past La Rogativa to your left and past a white-columned gate) and you will find Casa Rosa (Walking Tour sight #10). Literally meaning “pink house”, the distinctive building was used as a garrison during the Spanish colonial period but now serves as a daycare center.

10. Casa Rosa

10. Casa Rosa

Continuing the tree-laden path north leads to the open expanse of El Morro’s field. But before we reach the fortress, you’ll find another point of interest to our right: la Escuela de Artes Plasticas (#11). Formerly an insane asylum, this historic building, a prime location for inspiration and beauty, currently houses the premiere school for arts in Puerto Rico.

11. Escuela Artes Plásticas

11. Escuela de Artes Plásticas

After meandering around the school (you never know if you might witness some sort of divine inspiration going on) we’re ready to tackle the big one – Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (#12). To reach El Morro just follow the quarter mile path that runs through the open grass field where you might find families enjoying a picnic out in the breezy,
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sun-drenched space. Kite flying is immensely popular here; the trade winds blasting from the Atlantic and the vastness of the open sky are a perfect medium for this time-honored tradition.

12. Fuerte San Felipe del Morro

12. Fuerte San Felipe del Morro

The fort of El Morro is without a doubt the most popular destination for visitors to the island, and for good reason. The imposing structure was begun in 1540 but didn’t achieve it’s completed state until several centuries later. As San Juan’s principal defense against attacks by sea, El Morro has served on several occasions as repellent to invasion forces – from the English (1595, 1598 & 1797) and the Dutch (1625) to the Americans (1898). Take your time while exploring the area, history is seeped into the walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the views of the bay and surrounding ocean are a marvel to look at. Adjacent to El Morro is another
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much-photographed spot in the city, el Cementerio de San Juan (#13). To get there, walk the length of El Morro’s grounds heading east towards Plaza del Quinto Centenario. A road leads down into the surreal atmosphere of the cemetery where ghostly statues and elaborate decorations adorn some of the tombs. Many important Puerto Ricans are buried here: nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, pro-statehood movement founder Jose Celso Barbosa, and poet and politician Jose de Diego. After you’ve taken in the views from the cemetery go up to the street once again. We’ve still have some ground to cover and much more to see.

13. Cementerio de San Juan

13. Cementerio de San Juan

Norzagaray Street, due east, lands us on our next stop, Museo de San Juan (#14). Dedicated to the preservation of the city’s history, the museum is the ideal place to learn all about your surroundings during your stay in Old San Juan. Included in the displays are works from Puerto Rican masters Jose Campeche and Francisco Oller.
14. Museo de San Juan

14. Museo de San Juan

After you’ve caught up a bit with the culture, it’s time to discover another aspect of it first-hand. To the south of Museo de San Juan we enter Calle San Sebastian (#15), a favorite hangout spot for locals and tourists. The street is famous for the festival held every January, when hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to San Juan to experience the festivities first-hand. But San Sebastián St. is active year-round with plenty of restaurants and bars inviting patrons to take a load off, if only for a little while. Have a drink or order up some food if you like, but we still have 3 more spots to go on this leg of the tour. You’ll have more time to explore the street and have as many drinks as you want afterward – promise!

14. Calle San Sebastián

15. Calle San Sebastián

If we go west on San Sebastian Street, we’ll reach it’s intersection with Del Cristo Street. At this juncture we find Plaza San Jose (#16). The plaza is easily recognizable thanks to the statue of Puerto Rico’s first governor, Juan Ponce de Leon, and to the centuries-old church that gives the square it’s name. The shaded benches offer a welcome respite for those in need of it. Fortunately for us, the last 2 spots surround Plaza San Jose.
16. Plaza de San José & Iglesia de San José

16. Plaza de San José & Iglesia de San José

To the right of the statue – perpendicular to the church – is Museo de Casals (#17), dedicated to the life and work of world-famous cellist and composer Pablo Casals. Though born in Spain, Casals has been adopted as an important figure in the development of the fine arts in Puerto Rico.
17. Museo de Casals

17. Museo de Casals

Next to Museo Casals is Museo de Nuestras Raices Africanas (#18). The museum chronicles the rich cultural heritage of West Africa that has contributed to Puerto Rican society. Apart from the fascinating exhibits, the building that houses the museum is also an architecturally significant piece of history.
18. Casa de los Contrafuertes/Museo de Nuestras Raíces Africanas

18. Casa de los Contrafuertes/Museo de Nuestras Raíces Africanas

This concludes the second leg of our Walking Tour. Head back to Calle San Sebastian for more cocktails and a proper meal or join us for Part 3, where we’ll explore more historical buildings before heading down Del Cristo Street.

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