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A Walking Tour of Old San Juan

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Fifth Stop: La Fortaleza
A Walking Tour of Old San Juan

La Fortaleza

Photo © Zain Deane
Directions
Walk east along San Sebastián Street until you get to Cristo Street. Turn right on Cristo and take your time walking down one of Old San Juan's busiest and most picturesque streets. You'll probably be hungry by now, and this is a good time to stop for lunch; there are plenty of restaurants on Cristo Street. As you head south, you'll pass many landmarks. The lovely El Convento Hotel will be on your right, and directly across from it is La Catedral de San Juan, the largest and most revered Cathedral on the island. You can take a quick self-guided tour inside and see the remains of Ponce de León atop a marble tomb. Continue down the road until you get to Fortaleza Street. A short distance away, you'll see La Capilla del Cristo, a chapel built to memorialize a local legend. Turn right at Fortaleza Street and walk to the end of the road to La Fortaleza.

Highlights

  • Completed in 1540, La Fortaleza is the oldest governor’s mansion in the western hemisphere, and has housed 170 governors of Puerto Rico. It was also the island's first true fortress.
  • In another case of double identity, La Fortaleza, which means "The Fortress," also goes by the name of Palacio de Santa Catalina, or "Santa Catalina Palace."
  • Its distinctive blue-and-white façade was not completed until 1846, when it became the exclusive residence of the governors.
  • Guided tours take you through the sumptuous interior, with gilded banquet halls, galleries, and rooms furnished in the style of the period.
  • One of the best things to see in the mansion is a broken, old mahogany clock that stands in a corridor. Just before relinquishing the building (and the island), the last Spanish governor paused in front of this clock and struck its face with his sword, stopping time to note the very last moment of Spanish rule in Puerto Rico.

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