In the early 1500s the battery and tower that would become El Morro protected the harbour and provided some refuge for the people of San Juan during attacks, however it did not provide any defence for the city itself. During the English attack and occupation of 1598 and the Dutch attack of 1625, much of San Juan was destroyed.
The building of the wall commenced after the Dutch attack, however construction was sporadic and depended on the availability of funds and labour. By 1790 the wall completely encircled the city and included embrasures (gun ports from which cannon could be fired) and guaritas (sentry boxes). San Juan’s three mile long city wall became a key part of its fortifications.
The completion of the wall, the construction of Castillo de San Cristóbal and the expansion of San Juan’s other defences had a considerable effect on the city. The city’s defences covered over 250 acres, leaving only some 62 acres inside the city walls for private and city construction. For many of San Juan’s residents in the 1800s, the defensive walls made the city feel more like a prison than a refuge. From a population of nearly 8,000 in 1803, San Juan grew to 27,000 by the 1890s. Local officials finally convinced the military authorities to demolish a section of the city’s walls in 1897 and allow the overcrowded city to expand.
The destruction of the Santiago Gate, which allowed the city to expand to the east, also promoted a sense that local interests were beginning to replace San Juan’s imperial concerns.
- Information signs at Castillo de San Felipe del Morro
- Information signs at Castillo de San Cristóbal