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La Fortaleza/ San Juan
National Historic Site, Puerto Rico

San Felipe del Morro fortress (foreground) and La Fortaleza (background)
La Fortaleza/ San Juan National Historic Site, NPS photo

La Fortalezal San Juan National Historic Site with the exterior of the church and its cross
San Juan National Historic Site, NPS Photo
The system of fortifications in San Juan built by the Spaniards in the early 16th century is the oldest European construction in the United States and one of the oldest in the New World. Their main purpose was to protect the entrance of San Juan Bay, ensure that Puerto Rico remained under the sovereignty of Spain, and protect Spanish commerce in the Caribbean basin. The system that defended San Juan includes three major fortifications. The first, La Fortaleza (1533) or “Palacio de Santa Catalina” was and continues to be the residence of governors. Fort San Felipe del Morro (1539), perhaps the most distinct fortification, was built at the entrance of the harbor and has withstood the five major attacks to the colony.

Fort San Cristóbal, which was constructed in 1634 after the devastating assault by the Dutch, protected the city from land attacks and is the largest fortification built by the Spaniards in America. A fourth, smaller fort, Fort San Juan de la Cruz (1606) strategically positioned across from Fort San Felipe del Morro, provided crossfire to the larger fort and helped control the entrance to the harbor. San Juan is one of the few walled cities left in the New World. The forts and three miles of city wall (mostly still standing) are fine examples of 18th century military architecture and will forever be linked to the power and glory of the Spanish Empire, and the beginning of European ascendancy in world affairs.

The historic city walls of El Morro protected San Juan from all but one attack
La Fortaleza/ San Juan National Historic Site, NPS photo

Inscribed in 1983 as a Cultural site, under Criteria C (vi).



San Juan National Historic Site
La Fortaleza (in Spanish)
World Heritage Convention




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