Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin
Puerto Rico Quarter
I didn't know much about Puerto Rico until I chose this quarter as Coin of the Month. As the Mint Police Dog, that guard tower really got my attention! I wondered why a guard tower would be important to this island and how long it had been there. Here's some of the story I discovered.
Puerto Rico is a fertile tropical island about the size of Connecticut. It lies just east of the largest islands of the Caribbean, so it was a good rest stop for Spanish ships traveling between Central America and Spain in the colonial days. And San Juan Bay is one of the deepest, safest ports in the area. No wonder Puerto Rico was important not only to Spain but to rival nations as well!
In 1493, Christopher Columbus found the island inhabited by a native people called Taíno. Juan Ponce de León set up the first Spanish colonies on the island. A long series of attacks began, resulting in more and more fortification.
During Puerto Rico's four centuries of strife, forts were built to guard the island. In the early 1500s, La Fortaleza, El Boquerón, and El Morro were built, though small at first. Across the mouth of the bay, El Cañuelo was begun in 1610. Later in the 1600s, the city was surrounded by a thick stone wall and a new fort on San Cristóbal Hill. In 1765, when the King of Spain decided to make Puerto Rico unconquerable, the forts at El Morro and San Cristóbal were built up to be the massive structures they are now.
The forts of El Cañuelo, El Morro, and San Cristóbal, along with most of the city's walls, are now part of the San Juan National Historic Site and a World Heritage Site as well. La Fortaleza is now the home of the governor of Puerto Rico. And the garitas (sentry boxes) that appear along the city's walls are the official symbol of Puerto Rico and the centerpiece of the Puerto Rico quarter!