Hispanic Heritage: First News reporter travels to Puerto Rico, highlights history of island

Local News

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (WKBN) – This year marks 500 years since the city of Old San Juan was established, making it the oldest city in the United States.

Old San Juan is located on the island of Puerto Rico

Originally, the island was inhabited by Taino natives ​​who lived there for hundreds of years. Then, in 1443 Christopher Columbus arrived on the island known at the time as “Boriken,” marking the beginning of the extinction of the Taino natives. 

In 1508, Juan Ponce de León arrived on the Island. He became the first Spanish governor of the heart and soul of the Caribbean. 

Then, in 1521 the city of Old San Juan was established. 

It was soon discovered that the island contained an impressive amount of gold and other resources. Sugar cane, coffee, and tobacco were some of the Island’s major exports. 

Due to the increasing demand for products, Spain brought African natives to Puerto Rico and forced them to become slaves. Ultimately, leading to what we know now as the Puerto Rican ethnicity, a mixture of Taino, African and Spanish descendants. 

As other countries became aware of the rich resources in Puerto Rico, forts and castles were built to protect the Island, like El Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, or simply, El Morro, a six-level fortress designed to protect the island from attackers approaching by sea.

The construction of El Morro began in 1539 and wasn’t completed until 1790, 250 years later. The fortress still stands today after seeing many battles over the centuries. 

In 1961 El Morro was turned into a museum. Now, visitors can come and see original cannons, structures and the quarters where soldiers once slept. 

Right down the street is El Castillo San Cristobal, which has stood guard for centuries at the eastern gate of Old San Juan. Fort San Cristóbal has defended the San Juan Bay from foreign attacks, such as the Battle of San Juan in 1797.

After the Spanish-American war ended in 1898, Puerto Rico ceded to the United States, eventually becoming a U.S commonwealth.

Still, centuries later the island holds its beauty and strength.

If you walk through the town of Old San Juan, you’ll find brick roads and colorful buildings that date back centuries. Like El Calle del Cristo, the oldest street on the island and it also has the most religious buildings on a street.

Now, the town is a beautiful destination for tourists to visit and even island natives. This year, the island celebrates 500 years of Old San Juan with festivals, events and signs throughout the island reminding all who come of the history of its ancestors.

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