Juan is the capital city of Puerto Rico. The city is located
in the northeastern part of the island of Puerto Rico.
San Juan was founded by Spanish colonists in 1521 and is
the oldest city on Puerto Rico. Today, San Juan serves as
Puerto Rico's most important seaport, as well as the main
manufacturing, financial, cultural, and tourist center of
the island. The population of the metropolitan area, including
San Juan and the municipalities of Bayamón, Carolina,
Guaynabo, Cataño, Caguas, Toa Baja and Trujillo Alto
is about 1.3 million inhabitants, hence about 1 in 3 Puerto
Ricans now lives in this area. The main airports serving the
city is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport,
located in Carolina and Isla Grande Airport.
Search Here For Caribbean Vacation Packages
1508 Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra (after
the Caceres (province), Spain birthplace of the then-governor of Spain's Caribbean
territories, Nicolas de Ovando), today known as the Pueblo Viejo sector of Guaynabo,
behind the almost land-locked harbor just to the west of the present San Juan
metropolitan area. A year later, the settlement was abandoned and moved to a site
which was called at the time Puerto Rico, a name that evoked that of a similar
geographical feature in the island of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, which meant
"rich port" or "good port". In 1521, the newer settlement
was given its formal name of "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following
the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name
which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honoring John the
Baptist. The indistinct use of "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto
Rico" for calling both the city and the island led to a reversal in practical
use by most inhabitants: by 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become
that of the entire island, while the name for the Island (San Juan Bautista) had
become the name for the city.
Old San Juan
In Spanish colonial times, most of the urban population resided in what is known
now as Old San Juan. Old San Juan is located on the western half of a small island
(the Isleta de San Juan) connected to the mainland by bridges and a causeway.
The island, which comprises an area of 47 sq. mi./122 sq. km., also hosts the
working class neighborhood of Puerta de Tierra, which is also the site of most
of Puerto Rico's central government buildings, including the commonwealth's capitol.
The old city is the main cultural tourist attraction for
Puerto Rico, and the bay side is lined by slips for large
cruise ships. The core old city is characterized by its narrow
cobblestone streets and colonial buildings, and encompasses
less than a mile by a mile and a half.
The buildings in Old San Juan date back to the 16th and 17th
century. Parts of the old city remain partly enclosed by massive
walls and contains several defensive structures and notable
forts, such as Fort San Felipe del Morro (begun 1539) and
Fort San Cristóbal (17th century), both part of San
Juan National Historic Site, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina,
also known as La Fortaleza (begun in 1533), which serves as
the governor's mansion. Other buildings of interest predating
the nineteenth century are the Ayuntamiento or Alcaldia (City
Hall), the San Jose Church (1523) and the adjacent former
Dominican monastery; and the former house of the Ponce de
Leon family known as Casa Blanca.
Other buildings of interest from Spanish colonial times,
among many, are the Teatro Tapia, the Ayuntamiento (City Hall),
the former Spanish barracks (now museum de Ballaja), La Princesa
(former municipal jail, now a history museum), and the municipal
cemetery of Saint María Madgalena de Pazzis, located
just outside the city walls.
Also on the island where Old San Juan is situated is the
Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (begun in the 1520s), which
contains the tomb of the Spanish explorer and settlement founder
Juan Ponce de León. Strict building codes enforce restoration.