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San Juan

capital and largest city of Puerto Rico, and second-oldest European-founded city in the Americas

location of San Juan

The city of San Juan proper occupies a small rocky island off the north coast of Puerto Rico, with a number of suburbs and residential districts located across the San Antonio Channel, which separates the eastern end of the island from the mainland. San Juan's harbor, entered through a narrow channel at the island's western tip, is guarded by the fort of San Felipe del Morro, which is sometimes called El Morro or Morro Castle.

map of San Juan

San Juan has been the capital of Puerto Rico since its founding. The city proper has a population of approximately 374,700.

The first European to see Puerto Rico was Christopher Columbus, who landed on its shores during his second voyage in 1493. He named the island "San Juan Bautista," in honor of John the Baptist. The first Spanish settlement on the island was Caparra, which was established just to the west of the current San Juan by Juan Ponce de León soon after he was appointed the first Governor in 1508. The settlement was moved to what is now known as Old San Juan a year later, at which time it was renamed Puerto Rico (meaning Rich Port). The capital was moved to the present site in 1521. Sometime during the early 1520's confusion over the names led to a switch, with the island becoming known as Puerto Rico and the settlement founded by de Leon becoming San Juan.

With its large well-protected harbor, San Juan soon became one of the most important ports in the Caribbean, and that prominence led to a network of fortifications being built to protect the transports of gold and silver from the New World to Europe. Thanks to those fortifications, San Juan was able to repel attacks by English navigator-pirate Sir Francis Drake in 1595, by the Dutch in 1626, and by the British in 1797. Although the city itself was occupied by British troops for about five months in 1598, none of its forts were captured.

San Juan still has one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean, serving both cargo and passenger ships. The metropolitan area boasts a strong industrial base, with clothing, sugar, cement, metal goods, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, and distilled spirits (especially rum) being the most important products. The city is also home to all of Puerto Rico's most important financial corporations, and many U.S. banks and corporations also maintain offices or distribution centers in San Juan. Tourism is also a major part of the city's economy.

Old San Juan, with 'Morro Castle' in the foreground

Lonely Planet
San Juan Puerto Rico
To Puerto Rico

Christopher Columbus
Juan Ponce de León
Sir Francis Drake

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This page was last updated on 06/14/2018.