Explore: Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo), The Missions, San Fernando Cathedral, Texas Governor’s Palace, La Villita
Estimated Time: 6 hours
San Antonio has the largest concentration of Spanish colonial architecture in North America. Its most famous site is the Alamo, which has stood as a symbol of liberty for 175 years. Today, the five missions (Alamo, Mission San José, Mission Concepción, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada) represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America and have been named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Few stories have the lasting presence of the Alamo. It was here that 189 Texians and Tejanos stood bravely against a 2,000-man Mexican army to fight for their independence. For 13 days, they clung to their dreams of a free Texas. Ultimately, the Alamo defenders lost the battle and their lives; but their strength inspired the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.” Just over a month later, the Alamo was remembered as Texian and Tejano forces defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto, winning independence for Texas.
The Alamo’s legacy lives on in San Antonio’s soul and infrastructure. You can still walk the battlegrounds and enter the famous façade where women and children were sheltered.
You will be greeted by the iconic arch-topped church, but quickly find that the Alamo is so much more. Step into the Long Barrack Museum, an original structure that was used in the battle and now offers exhibits on the Texas Revolution. You’ll learn the story of Alamo defenders, as you stand where they last stood. Then stroll through the manicured courtyard where historic buildings will take you on a journey through Texas history.
To truly understand the history of the Alamo, visit San Antonio’s four other Spanish colonial missions. They sit on the banks of the San Antonio River as it winds south from downtown San Antonio. Missions San José, Concepción, San Juan and Espada will remind you of the Alamo’s original purpose, to colonize Native Americans into citizens of Spain and expand the territories of the Spanish empire. Built in the 1700s, San Antonio’s missions are brimming with centuries-old artworks: original frescos, angels carved from limestone and haunting bell towers. These architectural feats continue to influence the culture and growth of San Antonio. Currently, the city is extending the River Walk, which runs just steps from the Alamo, southward to connect all of the city’s missions. You will be able to walk, bike or stroll from mission to mission by 2013.
San Fernando Cathedral
Downriver from the Alamo, San Fernando Cathedral houses remains that are said to be that of the Alamo defenders. The Cathedral itself is a stunning site. Considered the official heart of the city, it was established in 1731 and stands as the oldest cathedral sanctuary in the U.S. A brilliant stained glass and limestone façade make it one of the city’s most recognizable buildings, while numerous paintings, ornate gold décor and tile work adorn the interior .
Just around the corner, the Spanish Governor’s Palace is the “most beautiful building in San Antonio" according to the National Geographic Society. A national historic landmark, it once housed the officials of the Spanish Province of Texas. Over the entrance is the original keystone which contains the carved, double-headed eagle of the Hapsburg coat-of-arms and the inscription, in Spanish, "finished in 1749."
A few blocks from the Alamo, La Villita “the little village,” is a beautifully preserved neighborhood that was originally established by Spanish soldiers stationed at the Alamo. Today, La Villita is a historic arts village located along a slow bend in the San Antonio River Walk. In the old residences you will uncover cafes, galleries and boutiques that capture the maverick spirit of San Antonio.