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Stephen Harrigan's Alamo

Explore: Downtown San Antonio's significant landmarks of the Battle of the Alamo.
Estimated Time: 2 to 3 hours
Transport: Walk

Based on an article by Stephen Harrigan, award-winning author of the critically-acclaimed historical novel, The Gates of the Alamo. Reprinted with the kind permissions of Texas Monthly magazine, from the March 2000 issue, and Stephen Harrigan. (Note: Some locations referenced in this itinerary may have changed since original publication of the article in 2000)


Watch The Alamo …. The Price of Freedom

Watch the most accurate film depiction of the Battle of the Alamo at the IMAX movie theatre, across the street from the Alamo.

Tower of the Americas

Take the elevator to the top of the Tower of the Americas and view what was once the Mexican frontier town of San Antonio de Bexar, with the Alamo just across the river from the town center. From this vantage point, pick out the twin bell towers of San Fernando Cathedral. It was from the church’s steeple (torn down in the 1870s) that a Texian lookout first spotted the enemy, coming from the hills northwest of town. The Texians, about 150 or so men, hurriedly retreated to the Alamo, across the river.

San Fernando Cathedral

The San Fernando Cathedral faces Main Plaza, once the city’s heart. Portions of the old nave are intact. The marble crypt in the baptistery proclaims itself to be the repository of the Alamo heroes’ remains.

Commerce Street

Leave the cathedral and head east down Commerce Street to follow the route by which the Texians retreated into the Alamo. The Commerce Street bridge is where an important parley occurred between the Texians and Santa Anna forces. A young Texian engineer was sent to offer a conditional surrender under a white flag. The offer was rejected by the Mexicans. They wanted total surrender.

Gatehouse of the Alamo

Continue east up Commerce Street. Although this structure is no longer standing, its location is marked by a grassy areas in the middle of Alamo Plaza. At the time of the siege, the gate was guarded by artillery.

Alamo Church

Beyond the vanished gatehouse stands the Alamo Church, one of the world’s most recognized structures. It looks very different than it did in 1836. The famous curved gable – known as a campanulate – was added fourteen years after the battle.

Palisade

To the right of the churchyard, you’ll see a parallel track in the paving stones which marks the wooden palisade that once bridged a gap between the east edge of the gatehouse and corner of the church.

Line in the Sand

Stand directly in front of the church. Notice a curious strip of bronze and a plaque on the ground.. This is where Travis drew his famous line in the sand, giving his men the choice to escape over the walls or to stay and die. This is a keystone of the Alamo legend. Unfortunately, it is almost surely an invention.

West Wall

On the second day of the siege, Travis wrote a letter declaring, “I shall never surrender or retreat.” He likely wrote it in one of the rooms of the west wall. Hardly anything on this side of the Alamo remains. But cross the street at Alamo Plaza.

Hyatt Regency

Just at the point where a stairway leads down to the Hyatt Regency hotel, you’ll see traces of its adobe foundation under a glass viewing panel.

Post Office

Walk up the stairs of the Post Office on Houston Street and turn around. In front of you is the Alamo Cenotaph, a massive memorial built in 1939. Use your imagination, remove the cenotaph, and you’ll get an idea of how large the mission courtyard was that the Texians had to defend.

Now walk into the Post Office, which was built over the site of the Alamo’s north wall. When you stand in the lobby, you’re standing pretty much in the place where the Mexican army managed to fight their way over the walls.

The Long Barrack or Convent

Leave the Post Office and walk towards the Alamo. Visit the Long Barrack, or convent. This is where many of the defenders retreated when the Mexican army attacked from four directions, and this is where some of the most hellish fighting of the battle took place. The second floor is long gone, and the first floor is now a museum, which is worth a look.

The Church

This hushed and dark sanctuary is nothing like it appeared in 1836 – the church had no roof then. As you move through the church, take a good look at the linked rooms on the left side. This was the sacristy, where the women and children hid during the terrible hour of the battle.