Viejo San Juan in Puerto Rico is the historic district on the western part of the San Juan islet, near Puerta de Tierra. This old part of the city was founded in 1509 – a walled and fortified city that is used to protect the entrance into the Spanish Main from the attacks of the Dutch and British. The fortifications were used to protect the gold, silver and other precious metals that passed through this area en route to Spain. The 42-foot high city wall spans a great area and is made of limestone, sand, mortar and water.
This is an area that is replete with history, and what's more, most of the old quarter has remained intact. It is an area which has the largest collection of historical architecture within its 7-square blocks.
Amble along the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan and make your own journey of discovery of the historical and cultural gems it has to offer. There is the San Juan National Historic Site in Norzagaray Street, home to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristobal, two forts that provide great views of the San Juan Harbor. You can also explore historic buildings that are monuments in their own right, such as the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (which is housed in the Asilo de Beneficencia which was built in 1832), La Fortaleza (which is the governor's mansion – the oldest of its kind in the New World), Alcadia (a 1600 city hall) and the churches – San Juan Cathedral and San Jose Church. San Jose is the second oldest church in the New World and built in the Gothic tradition, while the San Juan Cathedral holds the distinction of being the burial site of Ponce de Leon.
Of course, the most central site is Plaza de Colon with a statue of Columbus placed prominently on a pedestal. The highest point in Old San Juan, Plaza del Quinto Centenario, features a 12-meter tall sculpture that celebrates five hundred centuries of the New World's discovery. The monument is made from ceramic and black granite and was created by Puerto Rican artist Jaime Suarez.
The plaza also has a number of columns, steps and fountains. You can also visit the traditional entrance of the section – San Juan Gate (which is a huge wooden door that welcomed those arriving in Puerto Rico via the woodel ships), as well as the two museums – La Case del Libro and Ballaja Barracks. La Casa del Libro is all about history and art books that cover five centuries while the Ballaja Barracks used to be the headquarters of the Spanish army and now features the vibrant folk art of the Americas. You may also want to job along the El Morro Trail, which is known for its great views of the harbor.
For more information, drop by the Tourist Information Center at La Casita, which is near Pier 1. When touring Old San Juan, remember to wear comfortable shows and sunscreen. If you visit San Juan in January, you can also visit the San Sebastian Annual Carnival.