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San Juan

 San Juan is the capital city of Puerto Rico. The city is located in the northeastern part of the island of Puerto Rico.

San Juan was founded by Spanish colonists in 1521 and is the oldest city on Puerto Rico. Today, San Juan serves as Puerto Rico's most important seaport, as well as the main manufacturing, financial, cultural, and tourist center of the island. The population of the metropolitan area, including San Juan and the municipalities of Bayamón, Carolina, Guaynabo, Cataño, Caguas, Toa Baja and Trujillo Alto is about 1.3 million inhabitants, hence about 1 in 3 Puerto Ricans now lives in this area. The main airports serving the city is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, located in Carolina and Isla Grande Airport.

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 In 1508 Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement, Caparra (after the Caceres (province), Spain birthplace of the then-governor of Spain's Caribbean territories, Nicolas de Ovando), today known as the Pueblo Viejo sector of Guaynabo, behind the almost land-locked harbor just to the west of the present San Juan metropolitan area. A year later, the settlement was abandoned and moved to a site which was called at the time Puerto Rico, a name that evoked that of a similar geographical feature in the island of Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, which meant "rich port" or "good port". In 1521, the newer settlement was given its formal name of "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honoring John the Baptist. The indistinct use of "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" for calling both the city and the island led to a reversal in practical use by most inhabitants: by 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become that of the entire island, while the name for the Island (San Juan Bautista) had become the name for the city.

Old San Juan
In Spanish colonial times, most of the urban population resided in what is known now as Old San Juan. Old San Juan is located on the western half of a small island (the Isleta de San Juan) connected to the mainland by bridges and a causeway. The island, which comprises an area of 47 sq. mi./122 sq. km., also hosts the working class neighborhood of Puerta de Tierra, which is also the site of most of Puerto Rico's central government buildings, including the commonwealth's capitol.

The old city is the main cultural tourist attraction for Puerto Rico, and the bay side is lined by slips for large cruise ships. The core old city is characterized by its narrow cobblestone streets and colonial buildings, and encompasses less than a mile by a mile and a half.

The buildings in Old San Juan date back to the 16th and 17th century. Parts of the old city remain partly enclosed by massive walls and contains several defensive structures and notable forts, such as Fort San Felipe del Morro (begun 1539) and Fort San Cristóbal (17th century), both part of San Juan National Historic Site, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina, also known as La Fortaleza (begun in 1533), which serves as the governor's mansion. Other buildings of interest predating the nineteenth century are the Ayuntamiento or Alcaldia (City Hall), the San Jose Church (1523) and the adjacent former Dominican monastery; and the former house of the Ponce de Leon family known as Casa Blanca.

Other buildings of interest from Spanish colonial times, among many, are the Teatro Tapia, the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), the former Spanish barracks (now museum de Ballaja), La Princesa (former municipal jail, now a history museum), and the municipal cemetery of Saint María Madgalena de Pazzis, located just outside the city walls.

Also on the island where Old San Juan is situated is the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (begun in the 1520s), which contains the tomb of the Spanish explorer and settlement founder Juan Ponce de León. Strict building codes enforce restoration.


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