TwHP Lessons

The Forts of Old San Juan:
Guardians of the Caribbean

[Cover photo] El Morro.
(National Park Service)


he ancient stone walls rise majestically above the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, simultaneously towering over the harbor entrance and casting their silhouette into the colonial city of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Tunnels and staircases wind through the interior, leading back to the time when the fort provided the keystone to protection of the Spanish Empire that spread across the Caribbean.

These massive masonry defenses, which were begun in the 16th century, today exist as the oldest European­style fortifications within the territory of the United States. Now one of the most beautiful spots in Puerto Rico, the battlements illustrate the remarkable work of Spanish military engineers and recall more than 400 years of history in the Americas. The San Juan National Historic Site, as it is now called, represents the past so well that the United Nations has designated it as a World Heritage Site because of its "outstanding, universal" cultural value.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Spanish forts in the Caribbean
 1. San Juan Island, Puerto Rico

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Discovery and Colonization of Puerto Rico
 2. Evolution of a Defensive System
 3. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. El Morro
 2. El Morro and the western part of San Juan
 3. San Cristóbal
 4. Aerial view of San Cristóbal

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Spain and Other Colonizers
 2. Comparing an Old City to a New City
 3. Photographing History

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San Juan National Historic Site

This lesson is based on San Juan National Historic Site, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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