Old San Juan is a jewel in the midst of the island’s contemporary, urbanized capital. It’s sidestreets are colorful, with narrow roadways, some paved in blue bricks and lined with tall brightly colored buildings. Old San Juan was protected from maurading pirates and invading armies by a series of fortress-like walls,which are now considered a UN World Heritage Site. Castillo de San Cristóbal is a portion of these defenses that protected the main land entrance to the city of San Juan. Castillo de San Cristóbal is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World, and sits in the highest part of the city, providing an unobstructed view of the port. It was started in 1634 and finished in 1783, covering about 27 acres of land. These fortress walls are impressive structures that have easily withstood the test of time and multiple attacks. San Juan’s fortified walls feature numerous guerites (or sentry boxes, called “garitas” by the locals). These guerites, with their domed roofs, have long been emblimatic of Puerto Rico and San Juan. Inside the walls, the main plaza contained five cisterns with a capacity of 716,000 gallons of rainwater, capable of supporting the garrison for an entire year.
I have always wanted to tour this site, and unfortunately, we were only able to squeeze in a quick visit, probably only ninety minutes, before we had to head out to the nearby airport to catch our flight. I definitely enjoyed my brief stay, and managed to capture a few photos of the impressively thick coral walls and the emblimatic “guerites” with the ocean and city in the background. I was also intrigued by the cistern network in the fort, and captured one shot showing the octagonal structures that contained the individual cisterns along the main plaza corridors. The light was late morning, but at least the skies were clear and graced with some adorning clouds. HDR software helped bring out the shadows in this harsh light. I only scratched the surface of this impressive series of linked fortresses in the city, and would definitely like to return one day to explore its amazing sites and stories. Hopefully these photos will show why I was drawn to this site!