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World Heritage Site

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La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza

La Fortaleza and San Juan Historic Site in Puerto Rico played a strategic role at the beginning of the Spanish colonization. This long military history can be found in the defensive system.

La Fortaleza is the most prominent of the many fortresses, founded between 1530-1540. San Juan National Historic Site includes forts San Cristóbal, San Felipe del Morro, and San Juan de la Cruz also called El Cañuelo, plus bastions, powder houses, and three fourths of the city wall.

Map of La Fortaleza


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Klaus Freisinger Austria 31-Jan-16

La Fortaleza by Klaus Freisinger

Founded in 1521, San Juan is the second-oldest European city still existing in the Americas, only a few years behind Santo Domingo. It soon became important as the first port of call for Spanish ships en route to the New World, and was therefore a popular target for the English (including Francis Drake), French, and Dutch, as well as for pirates of all kinds. To secure the port, the Spanish built 2 massive fortifications and a large city wall. These form the San Juan National Historic Site, a unit of the U.S. National Park Service. The fortress of San Cristóbal is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. About a 20-minute walk away, San Felipe del Morro guards the entrance to San Juan Bay. The most fascinating feature of this fort is the large open space in front, which was intended to give the defenders an open field of fire. You can easily spend several hours exploring each of the forts. They are connected by the remains of the city wall, which also stretches south of El Morro to include San Juan Gate, for centuries the only way to enter the city. The WH site also includes La Fortaleza, built in the 16th century as yet another fortification but soon found to be inadequate for this purpose and turned into the residence of the governor of Puerto Rico (it is also known as Santa Catalina Palace). It still fulfills this function today, and is thus the oldest executive residence still in use in the New World. Today it is not very difficult to visit; you just show up and register for the next guided tour. I actually had a tour guide completely to myself, and for all of the 30 or so minutes that I was shown around La Fortaleza, a security agent discreetly accompanied us. The inside is quite interesting, but the highlights of this WH site are definitely the 2 fortresses. San Juan is in general a pleasant city, and the historic centre, known as Old San Juan, is at all times full of tourists from the many cruiseships lying at anchor.

Larry Perkins, USA 05-Dec-09

The fortress is the best Spanish fortress of its kind we have ever seen. It is enormous and visitors can wander at will. There are guided tours which can give you the whole story and interesting details about the history of the fort. The adjacent area is also worth a walk around. There are old churches, historic homes, monuments, and a promenade along the city side of the hill where the fort lies.

Ben Pastore USA 07-Jun-05

To me, this Bastion at the heart of San Juan is what the Caribbean is all about. Take away the cruise ships and high rises, and what you have is an authentic relic from the once mighty Spanish Main, a classic icon from a romantic era of exploration and expansion.

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Community Rating

Community Rating 3.20. Based on 5 votes.

Site Info

Full name: La Fortaleza and San Juan Historic Site in Puerto Rico

Unesco ID: 266

Inscribed: 1983

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 6  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2006 - Name change From "La Fortaleza and San Juan Historic Site in Puerto Rico" to "La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico"
  • 1983 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • La Fortaleza


The site has 13 connections.




Individual People


  • Built in the 16th century: La Fortaleza - built 1533-1540; the sites illustrate the adaptation to the Caribbean context of European developments in military architecture from the 16th to 20th centuries


  • Built or owned by Dutch: Dutch owned from Sep. 1625 - 2 Nov. 1625 abandoned. The Dutch occupied only the town and the fort of Canuela in the bay entrance. The fort of Canuela is retaken by the Spanish after three weeks.
  • Built or owned by Spanish: San Juan, as a settlement of the Spanish Empire, was used by merchant and military ships traveling from Spain as the first stopover in the Americas (wiki)

World Heritage Process