Overview : This is a walking tour of one this country’s most historic cities. As you walk through San Antonio, you'll also walk through much of... more »
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Overview : This is a walking tour of one this country’s most historic cities. As you walk through San Antonio, you'll also walk through much of... more » Texas’ early history. You'll see the famous site where Texas fought for its independence, stroll around one of the city’s original marketplaces that dates back to the turn of the century, and much more. less «
As you exit the Visitors Center’s front doors, take two rights and walk into the plaza area. Though at the outset it may look like a bizarre use of space, these stone structures are actually preserved pieces of an original Alamo grounds building. In the center of the area, you’ll see a glass enclosure. If you look through the glass, you’ll see... More that the pile of dust and stone are original adobe bricks leftover from the foundation of the Indian quarters that were “built here during the construction of the Alamo’s west wall. Some of these Indian quarters were used as barracks during the siege of the Alamo.
If you look up at the side of the Visitors’ Center building, you can get a better glimpse of the building’s original exterior. This building was also one of the original structures of the Alamo grounds. Only the facade of this building has been refurbished and redesigned over the years.
Proceed down the stairs to the left along the waterfall-lined paths. This is San Antonio’s historic River Walk, otherwise known as Paseo del Rio. Walking paths lined with varieties of tropical plants and foliage usher you into this charming subterranean little village of restaurants and shops. The River Walk snakes beneath much of downtown San Antonio, linking many of its great hotels, restaurants and attractions in 2 1/2 miles of landscaped walkways. It is one of Texas’ most dynamic attractions and has even served as a model for other River Walk and waterfront developments around the world.
Through the double glass doors in front of you is the Hyatt Hotel. Continue through here to the River Walk. The architecture of this building--along with many others along the River Walk--was designed around the natural flow and tributaries of the river.
Continue along the path through the left side of the expansive interior plaza. Jim Cullum’s Jazz Landing has been around since the 60s. This San Antonio landmark is one of the city’s premier jazz clubs, and was actually the second business established on the River Walk after the Casa Rio Mexican restaurant. The club moved to this location within ... Morethe Hyatt in 1981. The Landing has played host to a number of jazz celebrities including Doc Severinsen of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show fame, Butch Thompson, and Bobby Hackett. The club is one of the most celebrated spots in San Antonio to hear great jazz played by a legendary band. Along with good eats and great drinks, you can hear the Jim Cullum Jazz Band play here Monday thru Saturday nights.
Before it became the bustling and romantic commercial hotspot it is today, the San Antonio River simply served as the primary source of water supply to various civilizations over thousands of years. The first known people were the Payaya Indians in 8000 B.C., who named the river “Yanaguana” (Yah-nah-gu-wah-nah). Later in the first three centuries,... More the river drew various settlements of people including explorers, soldiers, a group of Canary Islanders, and Franciscan missionaries. The first mission that sprung up was Mission San Antonio de Valero, which you may know as the Alamo.
Along with precious resources, the river came with its issues. Throughout San Antonio’s growth in the late 1800s and early 1900s, flooding became a chronic problem. 1921 saw the worst flood in the river’s history, which took the lives of fifty people and caused millions of dollars in damage to the city.
This event spurred a city-wide debate among urban-planning committees and local citizens over what to do with the river. Architect Robert Hugman’s brilliant proposal was to transform the river into a beautiful New Orleans- and Venetian-inspired urban park. Complete with gondalas and winding romantic paths along the river, Hugman’s vision of the river as a combination urban park and commercial center won over the city in 1929. His plan, “The Shops of Aragon and Romula,” boasted two benefits: flood gates to prevent any future flooding from occurring, and commercial development of businesses, hotels, restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions.
Hugman’s River Walk plan has proved to be a success: no more flooding and the River Walk as a springboard for the development of San Antonio. The River Walk’s development and international exposure took off during the 1968 World’s Fair when two new hotels brought a surge of tourism to the area.
Since the late 18th century, the Main and Military Plaza Historic Districts have long been considered the heart of San Antonio. Established in 1722, the Military Plaza a few blocks west of here served as a parade ground and market for soldiers. In 1731, the Main Plaza, across from us, was established and settled by Spanish families from the Canary... More Islands, making it the first civilian municipality in Texas. At that time, the buildings that encircled the plaza were one-story family homes. During the post-Civil War boom, commercial and government buildings gradually replaced the residential structures over a 200-year rapid growth period.
Many of these historic buildings still surround the plaza, cementing it as San Antonio’s civic and religious center. Some of these buildings have witnessed untold turning points in Texas history. The central San Fernando Cathedral stood witness to a peace treaty signed and then later broken with the Apaches while it was still under construction in 1749. Less than a hundred years later, freedom fighters fought against Mexican General Santa Anna’s troops on these grounds in 1835 before barricading themselves inside the Alamo. The plaza then became the site of one of the bloodiest battles in our nation’s history during Texas’s fight for independence from Mexico in 1836. During that time, the nearby Bell Building served as the site of Santa Anna’s camp throughout the gruesome siege of the Alamo. Some time in 1892, the Romanesque-style Bexar County Courthouse on the southern perimeter was constructed. Today it still serves as San Antonio’s central courthouse.
As the historical center of downtown, the Main Plaza recently went through a major redevelopment process, complete with full landscape design, a new pedestrian plaza, fountains, and even free WiFi. The “Heart of the City” Redevelopment Project has further reinstated the plaza’s role as the city hub while providing a lovely urban community gathering place downtown.
Called “the most beautiful building in San Antonio” by the National Geographic Society, this lovely adobe style building built in 1722 was founded as the Military Presidio de Bejar to protect the Mission de Valero (or the Alamo) and its surrounding colony, the Villa de Bejar (which together, made up San Antonio). While Texas was still a Spanish... More colony, the military government used this building as their base camp and shared it with the Presidio Captain, who also served as the presiding Governor of Texas at that time. The building later became the Texas region’s capital building in 1772 while it served as the seat of the Texas government. It became known as the Spanish Governor’s Palace when it was the Presidio Captain’s home and headquarters.
It was here that the first seeds of Texas government were planted and initial laws were adopted until the Spanish Government period ended in 1821 and the declaration of Texas Independence was signed in 1836. After that, the seat of government moved to another location, and the building served various purposes including a shop, a restaurant bar and a schoolroom. The City of San Antonio reacquired the building in 1929, meticulously restoring it to its original look.
Now, this National Historic Landmark functions as a museum and stands as Texas’s only example of an 18th century Spanish aristocratic home. This single story stucco building has ten rooms, a grand courtyard and a fountain, which is allegedly haunted by a former resident.
Note the carved keystone over the entrance. The double-headed eagle is a simplified version of the Hapsburg (haps-burg) coat of arms of King Ferdinand IV of Spain. The inscription translates to “finished in 1749.”
Open public markets have been a part of San Antonio city life since as early as 1805. Though it’s no longer a place to purchase your fresh meat and locally grown produce, Market Square is the last standing market of their kind, and to this day continues to be a viable gathering place for the community.
Today, Market Square is comprised of a... More bustling three-block area loaded with activity, as well as shops and restaurants. A favorite place for both visitors and locals alike, Market Square is like Fiesta all year round. It’s a perfect place to people watch while you sip margaritas in an outdoor café, savor a puffy taco, listen to the street performers, or stroll around the shops filled with Mexican imports.
As you walk, the wafting smells of tortillas fill your nose, and you hear the sounds of fiesta. You’ll come to one of San Antonio’s landmark Mexican restaurants on your left. Right in the heart of Market Square is Mi Tierra Café y Panaderia, a local institution that has brought home-baked goods and Mexican food to the masses since 1943. And believe it or not, this family-owned business hasn’t closed since. Ever. It is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Locals and tourists flock here to partake of the spicy Mexican food and authentic pastries while being serenaded by the ever-playing festive Mariachis.
Continuing along Dolorosa street, that beautiful stately red building across the street to your right is the Bexar County Courthouse. Designed by renowned architect, James Riely Gordon, it is built of native Texas granite and red sandstone and reflects a Romanesque Revival style. It’s actually the largest and oldest continuously operated historic... More courthouse in Texas. In fact the chronology of Texas’ history up until its independence can be seen in this very building. Bexar County has served under the rule of several countries since its original establishment as a part of New Spain. Likewise, Bexar County Courthouse has seen five seats of government in its lifespan including Spain, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, The Confederate States of America, and the United States. Today, the courthouse receives about 100,000 visitors on a yearly basis and hears approximately 80,000 cases per year.
Sharing the Plaza de las Islas with the courthouse stands the beautiful historic San Fernando Cathedral. The San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest continuously operated parish in the United States. On July 2, 1731, the church site was first marked by the Canary Islanders who originally settled this area and established it as the geographic and... More cultural center of San Antonio. It is from this point that all mileage to San Antonio was originally calculated, and street numbers were counted. With its first cornerstone laid in 1738 and construction completed in 1755, the Cathedral stands as the oldest building in Texas. Though it has undergone several renovations, three of its original walls still stand, framing what is now the church’s sanctuary behind the altar. These walls are the oldest standing structures in San Antonio. The church’s graveyard also holds the earliest marked graves in San Antonio, among them those belonging to Alamo defenders James Bowie (who was also married here five years prior to his death to Ursula Veremend (ER-suh-la VAIR-uh-mend), daughter of the Vice-Governor of Texas), William Travis and Davy Crockett.
Among other key points in Texas history, the San Fernando Cathedral also played a role in the siege at the Alamo—the building was used as an observation post by Mexican general, Santa Anna. After the bloody defeat of the Alamo, there was controversy over what to do with all of the bodies. Santa Anna decided that all of the bodies were to be burned, and their remains to be buried beneath the church’s altar. When the church was renovated in 1936, a box of bones, nails and shreds of uniforms were discovered and unearthed in the process. Now, the remains are memorialized in a large marble sarcophagus that sits in the left entrance of the church. Also buried here is the first bishop, Anthony Dominic Pellicer (PEHL-ih-sir), under the head of the main aisle of the church.
Enjoying a special place at the heart of San Antonio history, the Cathedral receives thousands of visitors each year, and about 5,000 worshippers each week. Though the Cathedral upholds its Catholic tradition, it functions as the city’s center of unity and harmony for people of all religions and faiths.
Walking through the historic district of La Villita is almost like stepping back in time. As you amble along the stone laid paths between the tiny cottage-like buildings, you can snag a unique glimpse of what the city of San Antonio must have looked like at the turn of the century. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the history ... Moreof this little village can be dated back to the 18th century, when it was no more than a haphazard collection of primitive huts that the Spanish soldiers serving at the Alamo used to lay their heads at night. This land was originally part of the mission’s lower farmlands, otherwise known as Labores de Abajo. After a flood in 1819 wiped out the colony’s makeshift structures, permanent brick, stone and adobe houses were built in their place. Not long after, in 1836, General Santa Ana used La Villita as the site of his cannon line in the Battle of the Alamo. By the latter part of the 19th century, German, Mexican, Irish and English immigrants had begun to settle in and set up businesses in La Villita and establish it as a commercial center. If you needed to get your shoes fixed, settle a legal dispute, buy your groceries, or have some cabinets made, this was the place to come. La Villita declined quite a bit in the first part of the 20th century into something of a slum area. But when the River Walk began to develop and become a tourist destination, much effort was made by the Mayor and city representatives to restore and preserve the area, and gradually develop it into the thriving community that it has become today.
Today La Villita has evolved into a historic arts district. Visitors and residents alike come here to browse in the quaint little shops selling eclectic handmade arts and crafts, go gallery hopping and take part in various cultural goings-on. At the nearby Arneson River Theatre, audiences can enjoy dance and musical performances, San Antonio Spurs victory celebrations set alongside the San Antonio River.
Right in the center of La Villita stands The Little Church, a historic church built by German Methodists in 1879. For over a century, The Little Church has been providing non-denominational services and is the most sought-after destination in San Antonio for weddings, playing host to up 7 weddings a weekend. Whatever time of year you come, submerging yourself in La Villita’s thriving arts and culture are a wonderful way to experience the enduring charm of this historic landmark.
Our next stop is perhaps Texas’ most eminent landmark of all: The Alamo. Before it became the famous site of Texas’ historic battle for independence from Mexico, for seventy years the Alamo was simply a mission complex, home to missionaries and their Indian converts. It was then known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the first of many missions ... Morethat were established along the San Antonio River during the 18th century. Mission San Antonio de Valero was established in 1718 by Fray Antonio de Olivares who named it after St. Anthony of Padua (Pad Jew Uah) and the viceroy of New Spain. However the main building that we recognize today, originally the mission’s church, wasn’t built until 1755. The other missions were spread far and wide across Texas. While it was in operation, Mission San Antonio de Valero functioned as their central headquarters until missionary activity gradually waned. Eventually in 1793, San Antonio’s five missions were secularized by Spanish officials, their lands were distributed to the Indians, and the buildings were abandoned. The archives from Mission San Antonio de Valero were moved to the San Fernando Cathedral, where they remain to this day.
Approximately a decade later, the abandoned complex became occupied by Spanish soldiers who had traveled up from Alamo de Parras, known today as the Mexican state of Coahuila. Some historians believe this might be the derivation of the name “Alamo”, others theorize the name came from the Spanish word “alamo” which means cottonwood, possibly inspired by the surrounding grove of cottonwood trees.
Tensions between the Texans and the Spanish continued to build under the unstable and oppressive regime of the Mexican government, and in 1835, the Alamo became the site of Texas’ culminating resistance. After driving government troops out of San Antonio, a makeshift Texan military force comprised of about 189 volunteers, including their leaders Davy Crockett, James Bowie and William B. Travis, set up camp here to battle the encroaching Mexican troops that numbered in the thousands. After thirteen days of siege and bloodshed, the battle finally ended. The death toll was in the thousands. Only one Texan survived—Jose Maria Guerrero—who was spared after persuading his captors that he had fought against his will.
Though the Texans did not win the battle at the Alamo, they did gain momentum in their fight towards independence. Moreover, the battle and colossal loss of life added fuel to their fire that was further fanned by an increased sense of martyrdom and outraged determination. Using the new battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” as their rallying cry to arms, six weeks later Sam Houston’s Texas forces defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican army at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. General Antonio Lopez was captured, the Republic of Texas was born, and Texas’ independence was finally won.
Today, as the monument to Texas’ independence, the Alamo stands as a symbol for courage and sacrifice for the sake of Liberty. As one of Texas’ most widely visited landmarks and museums, it sees a few million visitors a year from all over the world.