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Old San Juan
This is a 465-year-old neighborhood originally conceived as a military stronghold. Its 7-square-block area has evolved into a charming residential and commercial district. The streets here are paved with cobbles of adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag; they were brought over a ballast on Spanish ships and time and moisture have lent them their characteristic color. The city includes more than 400 carefully restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings. The Old San Juan attracts many tourists, who also enjoy the gambling casinos, fine beaches, and tropical climate. More tourists visit San Juan each year than any other spot in the Caribbean. A leisurely foot tour is advisable for those who really want to experience this bit of the Old World, especially given the narrow, steep streets and frequently heavy traffic. To really do justice to these wonderful old sites, you'll need two mornings or a full day.
Old San Juan has several plazas: Plaza de San José is a favorite meeting place for young and old alike. At its center stands the bronze statue of Ponce de León, made from a British cannons captured in during Sir Ralph Abercromby's attack 1797. The plaza is skirted by a number of historic buildings.
Abutting Plaza San José is the Plaza del Quinto Centenario (Quincentennial Square), opened in October 12, 1992. This plaza is the cornerstone of Puerto Rico's commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World, has a sculpture which rises 12 meters (40 feet). The monumental totemic sculpture in black granite and ceramics symbolizes the earthen and clay roots of American history and is the work of Jaime Suarez, one of Puerto Rico's foremost artists.
Plaza de Armas (arms square) is Old San Juan's main square, on San José Street. Features four statues representing the four seasons; all are over 100 years old. It was carefully planned as the main city square and has served as a social meeting place for generations.
Plaza de Colón (Columbus square) was originally called St. James Square was renamed in 1893 to honor Christopher Columbus on the 400th anniversary of his discovery of Puerto Rico; bronze tablets at the pedestal of the Columbus statue record important episodes in the explorer's life.
Plazuela de la Rogativa (plaza of the procession) was built in 1971, features a modern sculpture depicting a procession of religious women commemorates an event that took place on the site in 1797. During the spring of that year, a fleet of British ships led by under Sir Ralph Ambercrombie sailed into San Juan Bay, meaning to launch an assault on the city and take control of the colony. When the attack was foiled, they undertook a naval blockade of San Juan, hoping to starve the residents into submission. As the towns people began to despair of any help from soldiers garrisoned in the inland towns, the governor ordered a rogativa, or divine entreaty, to ask the saints for assistance. The women of the town formed a procession through the streets, carrying torches and ringing bells. The British, hearing the commotion and seeing the moving lights, decided that reinforcements had arrived and quickly sailed off.
The Plaza de Hostos is located near La Casita, features artisan displays, snack stands, and traditional piragüeros, who sell shaved ice topped with tropical fruit syrup.