After the last Dutch attack, work continued on building walls around the city of San Juan. The San Felipe del Morro Fort was still under construction, as was La Fortaleza. Protecting this area was extremely important, because it was the site that guarded the entrance to the bay. Therefore, multiple fortifications were built to strengthen the protection and vigilance of the area. Among these fortifications were the Santa Elena Fort, the San Gabriel Battery, the San Agustín Fort and La Puntilla de San Lázaro trenches. These were connected by walls equipped with gun ports, openings that provided places for the cannons. From La Real Fortaleza to the San Cristóbal Fort, around the south and east of the city, bunkers and additional walls were built. On the east side, the defenses consisted of the San Cristóbal Fort. The first building was an irregular four-sided polygon with four bastions or bunkers on the corners. On the north side of the islet, the only defense was La Perla, because of the rugged terrain.

To pass through the walls and enter the city, three gates were built: the San Juan gate; the San Justo y Pastor gate, which faced the docks; and the Santiago gate or Puerta de Tierra, so named because it was located on land.

During the 50 years it took to build all of the fortifications, there were many difficulties, such as a lack of labor, scarcity of materials and insufficient economic resources. Slaves rented by residents and infantry soldiers did most of the work. The tools and materials were imported and sometimes what was requested came late or simply did not arrive, due to the lack of communication. This meant that construction was detained for long periods of time. The financial problems were the result of the shortage of funds assigned as part of the Mexican situado. The economic conditions were so bad, due to the arrears in the situado, that the soldiers assigned to the island sometimes lacked uniforms, shoes and food.

During the 17th century, San Juan became a walled city, but lacking in quality of life. Its soldiers died of hunger and the residents, despite all the fortifications and bastions, feared for their safety. The situation was no different for the population in the interior of the island. The Crown was mainly interested in fortifying the small city and completely ignored the interior of Puerto Rico and any other needs the residents had. All the resources that arrived were directed to the fortifications for security, but because of the needs, foreign elements soon presented the possibility of relief from the economic situation.

Published: September 12, 2014.

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