The only walled city in the Caribbean, Old San Juan was founded by the Spanish in 1521. The fortified walls hold a maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with brightly painted 17th and 18th-century colonial-era houses.
The Spanish fortifications in San Juan are the oldest European construction in the territory of the United States and one of the oldest in the Americas. The forts and city walls are fine examples of historic military architecture that reflect the power of the early Spanish Empire and the spread of European culture.
The wealth stored in San Juan by conquistadors and their loyal merchants was a magnet for numerous European pirates and armies, including Sir Francis Drake, who tried to take the city in 1595, and the Dutch General Boudewin Hendricksz, who attempted the same thing in 1625. None of them managed it thanks to the four hefty forts such as El Morro, La Fortaleza and San Cristobal and the high sandstone city walls.
The othic Cathedral of San Juan, erected in 1540 by seafarers grateful to have escaped shipwreck in the shark-infested, reef-spiked, stormy waters of the Caribbean. Local homes in Old San Juan are decorated with wrought iron balconies and hanging baskets of flowers. Shops, restaurants and bars enliven the atmospheric historic centre as do museums, churches and theatres.