San Juan de Puerto Rico, five centuries of convulsive history and Spanish legacy

Marina Villén San Juan, Jan 23 (EFE) .- The imposing castles and colonial-style streets attest to the strategic importance and Spanish heritage of the city of San Juan, which celebrates the fifth centenary of its foundation with the king’s visit tomorrow of Spain, Philip VI. Coveted by the English and Dutch between the 16th and 18th centuries, and by the Americans at the end of the 19th century, San Juan suffered five major attacks that forced the city to rise from its ashes, in one case literally, as it was set on fire. . The Spanish arrived in Puerto Rico in 1493, called Borinquén by the native Taíno Indians, and Christopher Columbus decided to baptize the island as San Juan Bautista, a name that over the years would be exchanged for that of the city. THE TRANSFER OF THE CITY Present-day San Juan was not, however, the original settlement. The first city, Caparra, was founded in 1508 inside the bay, in a relatively unhealthy place, with a lot of humidity and insects and, above all, difficult to defend. For this reason, the residents of the time, between 130 and 200 inhabitants, voted in favor of moving the city from the siege and, despite the initial opposition of the first governor Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish Crown finally opted for its change to the islet. . “The transfer of Caparra to the islet in 1521 gives us the opportunity to revisit our history. The history that unites us and that is gradually forging a different idiosyncrasy,” Luis Moisés Pérez, director of the San Juan Museum, explains to Efe. This museum now exhibits the samples “Art, image and devotion. San Juan 500 years” and “The city in time”, which will be visited next Tuesday by Felipe VI. The historian also comments on how the indigenous people, the Spaniards and, later on, the slaves mix and begin to speak of the inhabitants of the city as “naturals and Creoles”, who during the English and Dutch attacks “give their lives to maintain the Spanish square. “There was always a sense of defense against any enemy that could threaten that specific reality that was already taking shape, where the peninsular in the distance gradually became a Caribbean islander,” underlines the expert, who considers this fight “a heroic act.” ONE OF THE KEYS TO AMERICA Manuel Minero also highlights the five great battles as “the decisive moments in which the history of San Juan could have changed drastically”. These are the English attacks of 1595, led by the corsair Francis Drake, and of 1598, led by George Clifford, who came to take the city; the Dutch of 1625; a new British raid in 1797; and the US bombing of San Juan in 1898 as part of the Spanish-American War. “This city, if it fell into enemy hands, was a bastion that could open the doors to the rest of America. Whoever possessed San Juan, possessed one of the keys to America,” Minero, who has organized in the fort, told Efe the exhibition “San Juan de Puerto Rico, V Centuries of History”. The British and Dutch came to enter the city or take one of the castles, but they always ended up defeated. The same did not happen with the US, to which Spain ceded sovereignty over the island the same year as the attack with the Treaty of Paris after the so-called “Disaster of ’98”. The historian also highlights that San Juan was from its foundation “a strategic place and indicated for the Spanish fleet as an entrance to America, it was the place where the fleet was divided between the mainland and New Spain.” A WORLD HERITAGE SITE Its defensive and strategic nature for supplying fleets encourages a large investment in fortifications. After the burning of the city by the Dutch in 1625, it was decided to wall the city to make it impregnable, and engineers from the Spanish Army arrived in the 18th century. “To prevent the enemy from conquering other places in America, investment in the defense of San Juan was crucial. The most palpable legacy of Spanish architecture in Puerto Rico is the military engineering that crowns the city,” says Minero. The castles of San Felipe del Morro and San Cristóbal, as well as smaller forts like San Jerónimo, define the current city, where the Spanish heritage is also seen in the churches and colonial buildings. The church of San José and the cathedral are “silent witnesses of all the historical processes”, according to the director of the San Juan Museum, who assures that the built historical heritage of the islet is “unique in its class”. In fact, Old San Juan was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. For Pérez, the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the foundation of San Juan and the visit of Felipe VI reaffirm “those ties and that commitment between both peoples to enhance what unites us and, more than the past, look to the future”. EFE mv/si (photo) (video)

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