Friday, January 1, 2010

San Juan Cemetery, Puerto Rico

For the past two weeks we've been on vacation visiting Puerto Rico. It's the perfect place to explore early American Colonial History. San Juan was founded in 1521, and the explorer Ponce de Leon was one of it's early governors. You can visit the walled city, its half dozen fortresses, and even Ponce de Leon's house. The narrow streets of Old San Juan are perfect for exploring by foot, and there is even a "Duck Tour" so you can have a guided trip inside the city and view the walls from the harbor.

This photo is in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the little cemetery outside the walls of the El Morro fortress, part of the U.S. National Park system. At the left you can see the walls of the fortress, and the guy in the blue shirt is a tourist exploring El Morro. The cemetery is outside the walls of the city, and the National Park service did not advice visitors to explore it, and the gates were locked anyways. The guys in green shirts were a cleaning crew raking the grounds.

El Morro is a Spanish Colonial era fortress built between 1539 and the mid 19th century. The Santa Barbara Bastion (an old tower) was first built in 1539, and the rest followed. There is also a gun turret on top that dates from the Spanish American War, and a lookout from WWI or WWII added by the Americans. A lighthouse was also added to the top of El Morro in 1908, so it is very much a working fortress, and part of lots of Puerto Rican History.

I noticed that most of the cemeteries in greater San Juan seemed to be locked, which is unusual for me. Here in New England the only cemetery I can recall being locked from visitors is the Hawes Burial Ground in South Boston. I would have loved to explore the headstones and the area. You can see the ocean just beyond the walls of the city. Most cruise tourists don’t notice this cemetery as they pass the El Morro fortress at the entrance to San Juan Harbor.

You can see a few graves from this cemetery at www.findagrave under "Cementerio Antiguo de San Juan" It seems that quite a few heroes and popular Puerto Rican figures are buried here.

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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