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Puerto Rico: El Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan)

While looking at Girasoli's wonderful photographs of Hawaii I spotted a tree that looked like a flamboyán (aka Royal Poinciana), a common tree in the Puerto Rican landscape. I knew I had a picture of a flamboyán and while searching for the photo I was reminded that last month I had told Annie that I'd do a blog post on the old part of the Puerto Rican capital. So, here is a selection of images of Old San Juan, a city founded in 1521 and the second oldest city in the Americas.


Plaza de San José is one of the many squares in Old San Juan. It's located on the highest point of the old city and it is a favorite weekend meeting place. The statue in the center is of Ponce de León.


Convento de los Dominicos (Dominican Convent), built in 1523, has served as a convent, a shelter against Caribe Indian raids, and as the Caribbean headquarters of the U.S. Army. More recently it was the administrative center of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. I worked there in the late 1970's.


Escalinata Calle de las Monjas (Step street of the Nuns). Next to this street there was a convent ( now a hotel) and the Cathedral.


Escalinata Calle de las Monjas


Caleta de las Monjas - a pretty blue cobblestone street at the base of the Escalinata de las Monjas.


Calle del Sol


Calle Caleta de San Juan. This street leads to the "Puerta de San Juan", a huge wooden door in the wall that surrounds the city. The door is the only surviving one out of six doors that were closed at sundown to protect the city from invaders.


Square in front of a church dedicated to San Francisco. This is a very popular square with the local residents who meet here to converse and play dominoes. In the 1960's the mayoress of the city installed outdoor television sets in this square for the enjoyment of the local populace. The TVs are gone now and replaced by these concrete tables and chairs decorated with dominoes.


Calle de San Francisco leading to the Fort of San Cristóbal, one of the two forts in Old San Juan.


Street opposite the fort and leading to the pier. The pink building on the right is the Tapia Theatre, built in 1832.


The adoquines, blue cobblestone pavers, were made with European iron furnace slag that, according to historians, was part of the ballast of the sugar carrying ships. Subjected to time, weather and traffic, the pavers have developed a very characteristic shiny blue-gray hue. Most of the narrow streets in Old San Juan are paved with adoquines.

Comments (7)

I love the photos! I am surprised at how colorful the houses are. The cobblestones are very cool. I don't think we have hardly any (if any) cobblestone streets here in Hawaii. They were probably just dirt roads til they were paved over with asphalt.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Maria, wonderful photos. I have a co-worker who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and she and her family try to go back there every couple of years to visit her parents who still live there. She always has great things to say. I can't wait to talk to her about Old San Juan and some of the images I enjoyed seeing here on your blog.

Thanks for sharing.

Thank you so much! It is so beautiful there; I really want to go back for a longer visit. I was only there for one day (got off a cruise ship) and that was not nearly enough time.

Your photos are wonderful. And those cobblestones! They are right up there with Venice's bricks in terms of beauty.

I went on that cruise with about ten family members and as I recall, we all thought the shopping was the best in Old San Juan of all the places where we stopped. More nice arts and crafts and less of that "duty free" stuff that the other ports had. I bought two paintings there (lithographs, actually) - I'll take some photos and put them on the blog sometime. They are both images of the Three Kings or Wise Men, very nice!

Thanks so much for posting this!


I had no idea that Old San Juan was so beautiful!

Your photos are fantastic, Maria. The blue cobblestones are fascinating. And thanks for explaining WHY they're blue, I was puzzling over that one!


Oh Old San Juan is absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for the introduction, I really didn't know anything about this place before. The Calle del Sol is aptly named, how brilliantly the sun shines on it!

María I.:

Girasoli: Almost every building in Old San Juan is painted in a very colorful palette and the trim is always white. I can't remember seeing a house painted white, maybe beige. The cobblestones are unique to OSJ. Outside that area the streets are paved with asphalt. The adoquines are beautiful but like in Italy, they can be hard to walk on. I found a picture of a flamboyán and I'll be posting it soon.

Kathy: I'm happy that you enjoyed the pictures and that you'll be sharing your impressions with your colleague. I'll be curious to know where she's from in P.R.

Annie: Cruisers who stop in OSJ for the day always yearn to spend more time on the island. Anytime is a good time to be in Puerto Rico. We usually visit in the summer months when the prices are lower and the crowds thinner. Shopping in OSJ is a very pleasant experience. There are very unique shops for every taste and pocketbook. I love visiting the galleries and shops that sell artisan work by Puerto Rican artists. Funny that you mention having two lithographs of the Three Kings. I have a few art pieces with the Three Kings in glass, porcelain and wood. The Three Kings are iconic in Puerto Rico. It's part of our cultural heritage and January 6 is a big holiday on the island. I'd love to see a picture of your lithographs.

Sandra: I also find the adoquines very fascinating. They are representative of the old town, which we call "casco viejo".

Anne: You have a sharp eye! I didn't noticed the sun shining brightly on that street. The street located a short block south of Calle del Sol is called Calle de la Luna. I'll have to research why it's named after the moon.

Wanda Rivera:

I just returned from a visit to Puerto Rico. I was horrified to see many of the streets of old SanJuan that were originally paved with adoquines , paved now with cement. The current mayor of San Juan, Mr. Santini, I was informed , decided that it is necesary to eliminate all traces of the hispanic past of Puerto rico. I was told, this is his attempt( in his crazy fanatic mind) to increase the potential for PR to become a state. I don't understand how the Puertorrican people have allowed this to happen.I am still in shock. We need people like you to help us stop fanatics like Mr. Santini form continuing to destroy the beuty of Old San Juan. Thank you.

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