Location: Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico
Researcher: Xiaowei Li
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Old San Juan, founded in 1521, is located on San Juan Island that lies at north coast of Puerto Rico. It was called “Puerto Rico”(meaning “rich port”), but the city quickly rose to importance as strategic military location and became famous settlement for its production of sugar cane and ginger crops. As a beautiful barrier island, San Juan Island not only overlooked the entrance to San Juan harbor, but also had a jagged reef along its ocean side and a craggy steep shoreline on the harbor site. As oldest settlement city during colonial time, the urban pattern still clearly remain its original grid planning founded Spain. With the development of city growth, the city pattern is no longer follow the grid system. The grid system cooperated with defense system, maybe with the contribution by topography, formed the existing urban pattern.
This passage focus on exploring how the urban pattern formed during colonial time and what elements or factors may contribute to it. Spanish Colonial rule the city from 1521 to 1898. There are several stages in the development of grid system and defense system.
Look at the map San Juan, the historic district- Old San Juan is surprisingly organized. In 1513, the monarchs wrote out a set of guidelines that ordained the conduct of Spaniards in the New World as well as that of the Indians that they found there. Old San Juan was planned around the law of the Indias (Las leyes de Indias), which required certain conditions for the planning and building of cities, this included the grid layout, open areas, definite types of streets, and civic and religious buildings. Changes were made to the grid to accommodate the slope of the land and blocks were subdivided into smaller lots. At beginning, settlers applied Eurpean architecture and Urbanism to create a modest replication of a Spanish city. The street grid of Old San Juan was established at beginning of colonial time. The urban center was planned around the Plaza de la Cathedral. The grid also defines residential blocks. At beginning, there was only few blocksLater development still followed the gird pattern.
The urban core started to transformation as the city was encircled within the defensive wall and the construction of fortresses. The 17th century saw the core of the vity shift to Plaza de Amas, and the town was established. This period of urban expansion saw a related construction boom that resulted in and urban center characterized by elegant buildings.
San Juan island was attacked several times during 1590s. Before 1590s, there was only one fort, La Fortaleza(1533), located at useless position and a preliminary fort on El Morro(1535). During 17th century, defensive system become elaborate. El Morro’s defense was improved(1625); San Juan de la Cruz was built across the bay; Castillo de San Cristóbal (St. Christopher Fort) was the largest fortress built by the Spanish in the America. Before 1700, all forts are scatted on different places on island. During the 18th century, a forted wall gradually enclosed the entire town. King Charles ordered to make the island a “ Plaza Fuerte” or “Defense of the First Order”. By the end of 1780s, defensive system was built. After 1800, there were no further military construction.
During 19th century, part of wall was demolished because of urban growth and population increase. Since the city had expanded and occupied most of the interior area of the defensive wall, part of wall was removed and city were expanded to outsides of the wall. On March 3, 1865, the municipal government of San Juan, approved a resolution promoting the city expansion across the land of Puerta de Tierra which included the plan for demolishing the city walls along the east side. On May 28, 1897, the walls demolition was officially started after a city expansion proclamation was issued by Queen Maria Christina. Though Southeast part defensive wall was demolished, the circulation still followed the pattern of wall.
After 1898, Old San Juan expanded rapidly beyond its walled confines to incorporate suburban Miamar, Santurce and Condado, as wella s industrial Hato Rey and modern financial district Rio Piedras. In 20th century, La Perla, located along the coast and beyond the wall. People who lived in this area woked in the slaughter house, or cemeteries or were slaves or the homeless. They lacked the protection from the wall in war times.
Elevation was also an important element that contributed to the location of first settlements. According to the analysis of topography of San Juan, the center of city located on gentle slope while defensive system were building on the cliff along coast.
The Old San Juan layout and pattern are contributed by various reasons. The originally grid system combined defensive system, with the contribution of topography, they influenced each other and formed during the evolution of city growth.
Question during research:
Why the direction of Old San Juan is not directly facing to north?
To study the urban development of San Juan during colonial time, one must examine the size and functions in Caribbean Urban network. To establish a zise structure for the cities on the Caribbean islands at 16th century is a difficult task. The source and knowledge of geography was not accurate enough. Coincidently, there are other cities who has grid layout plan in Caribbean islands are not facing north directly either. The source or technology might be the reason for it.
There were few source that helped Spain to establish a plan for a city. Firstly, the available manuscript cartographic collections and secondly the different chronicles, describing the islands and populations. The one that might influence the layout of the city is the cartography map. I find a cartography map that shows the 16th century Caribbean islands. From observation, the direction of several cities match the direction of auxiliary lines on the map. I compared several cities. And the auxiliary lines might be the reason why the axis of Old San Juan is not directly facing north. It is only an assumption and need more evidences to prove.
"The Evolution of a Defensive System." National Park Service. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Albert Manucy and Ricardo Torres-Reyes, Puerto Rico and the Forts of Old San Juan(Riverside, Conn.: Chatham Press, 1973).
The Forts of Old San Juan (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service);
"The Historic Fortifications of San Juan: La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site" (Nomination to the World Heritage List by the United States of America, 1982)
Nuttall, Zelia (May 1922). "Royal Ordinances Concerning the Laying Out of New Towns". The Hispanic American Historical Review 5 (2): pp. 249–254.doi:10.2307/2506027.
Sepulveda-Rivera, Anibal. San Juan De Puerto Rico: Growth of A Caribbean Capital City. Cornell University, 1986.