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La Intendencia is a striking, historic 19th century building that has been rebuilt and is now home to the Puerto Rico State Department. Tours are offered free of charge in English and Spanish. The building once housed part of the Spanish colonial government, which ran the island's affairs in the past centuries. La Intendencia faces the central Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan.
City Hall (Casa Alcaldía) stands imposingly in front of the Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan. It houses the city's Mayor and his staff. Its arches are flanked by two towers, very similar in design to Madrid's City Hall in Spain. Construction was accomplished in stages between 1604 and 1789. Today, the building contains a tourist information area downstairs and an exhibit and art gallery on the first floor. Visitors are welcome to tour and admission is free.
Located on Calle Cristo, the Plaza derives its name from the Cathedral located at its north end. Originally the Plaza extended from the cathedral to the San Juan Gate. Its history is closely tied with that of the Cathedral and the Convent. In the second half of the 19th century, the Plaza was paved, and in the 1980s it was fully restored. Near the Plaza you can find the Hotel El Convento, a selection of restaurants, stores and museums.
This is the house of the first Puerto Rican representative in the Spanish Cortes (courts); Senor Ramón Power y Giralt. Centuries ago, he entered the cortes and was instrumental in obtaining several important rights for the inhabitants of Puerto Rico. The place now houses the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust where you can view a video documentary and several exhibits related to Power y Giralt. Admission is free.
Located on Calle Cristo, this cathedral is the must-see attraction of the San Juan Archdiocese. It was built in 1540 and has been restored several times since. Declared an official Minor Basilica by the Vatican in Rome, the cathedral is on most walking tours in and around Old San Juan. Learn about the famous Spanish conquistador and first governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León, whose remains are interred on the premises.
Make it a point to stroll through the Cristo, and while you are at it, don't forget to bring your camera. The panoramic views are breathtaking, especially the intersection of Calle Cristo and Calle de San Sebastián. This street is host to several monuments of San Juan, such as the Iglesia San José, and the Capilla de Cristo, not to mention its excellent selection of world-class restaurants, such as Il Perugino. It's definitely one of the most important walks in the old city.
Capilla de Cristo, the Chapel of Christ, was built as a memorial to a celebrated miracle. In 1753, a youth participating in a horse-race at the St. John's Day festival lost control of his horse and plunged over a precipice. Don Mateo Pratts, a secretary of the city, prayed to Christ to spare the boy's life and the youth was saved. To express his gratitude, the young man had the chapel erected later that same year. Today, the chapel, located on Calle Cristo near Paseo de la Princesa, is a landmark and its Campeche paintings and gold and silver altar are highlights.
At the Paseo de la Princesa, located on the southernmost tip of Old San Juan, the Arsenal de La Marina (Navy Arsenal) was built in 1800 and now hosts the US Coast Guard. It is also home to the Fine Arts and Folk Arts departments of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, an institution devoted to the preservation of Puerto Rican culture. An added attraction is the gorgeous view of the bay.