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Architectural Treasures

Puerto Rico is a melting pot of diverse cultures and artistic influences, and this broad diversity is particularly evident in the architecture of the island. San Juan alone hosts more than 400 historical buildings, and the different architectural styles are spectacularly displayed throughout the city and all over the island.

Spanish Colonial

The most recognizable architectural style of Puerto Rico, many of the military structures and government buildings give San Juan its old-world feel. Narrow cobblestone streets and tile-roofed buildings transport you to another era of European elegance. The pastel buildings are and ornate balconies are reminiscent of southern Spain’s laid-back atmosphere and appreciation of leisure.

The El Morro Fortress is one of the largest fortresses in the Caribbean and has been watching over Puerto Rico’s north coast for more than four centuries. Completed in 1589, the fortress was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1973. The old city walls and the nearby Castillo San Cristobal fortress are also prime examples of Spanish Colonial military architecture. Construction of San Cristobal began in 1634 and was long considered the “Gibraltar of the West Indies”.


The San Jose Church in Old San Juan is a beautiful example of 16th-century Spanish Gothic architecture featuring high ceilings and vaulted arches. Construction on the church was started by a Dominican order in 1532, and the relatively simple-looking white church was where Puerto Rico’s first governor, Juan Ponce de Leon, was buried until 1836. It is thought to be the only true example of Gothic architecture in the United States.



Many of Puerto Rico’s historic theatres are gems of the Neoclassical style. In Ponce, Teatro La Perla is the island’s second-oldest theatre still in operation and hosts concerts, operas, ballets and local activities for the community. In Old San Juan, Teatro Tapia is the oldest freestanding performing arts theatre still in use in the US. Inaugurated in 1832, the theatre is named for noted Puerto Rican playwright Alejandro Tapio y Rivera and hosts many events and theatrical productions.

Also in Ponce, the Wiechers-Villaronga residence was built in 1912 by Alfredo B. Wiechers, a prominent architect of the time and designer of a number of important buildings in Puerto Rico. The Neoclassical style building has baroque influences and now houses the Museo de la Arquitectura Ponceña.


Yet another theatre makes an appearance on this list of Puerto Rico’s architectural marvels. In Mayaguez, the Yaguez Theatre was built in 1909 by Francisco Maymon Palmer and was used as an opera house, and later a venue for early silent films. The unique building suffered a fire in 1919, and was rebuilt to baroque specifications set forth by another important architect of the era, architect, Jose Sabas Honore.

Ponce’s delightful Plaza de Las Delicias is filled with ornate fountains and shady places to enjoy an afternoon. Horse-drawn carriages offer rides to visitors in the shadow of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. One of the more recognizable architectural features of Ponce is the dramatic Parque de Bombas. With its bold black and red stripes, the baroque building was built in 1882 and later served as the headquarters for the Ponce Fire Corps and now operates as a museum dedicated to Puerto Rican firefighters.

A stroll through any of Puerto Rico’s cities, towns and villages will provide a unique view into the island’s history. Architectural gems could be hiding just around the next corner.

Sara Sherman
Sara Sherman is a former St. Thomas resident and the editor of Virgin Islands Property & Yacht.
Sara Sherman

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