Brief area history:
With neither the modern skyline of an oil town, nor the tumbleweed-strewn landscape of the Wild West, attractive and festive San Antonio looks nothing like the stereotypical image of Texas – despite being pivotal in the state’s history. Standing at a geographical crossroads, it encapsulates the complex social and ethnic mixes of all Texas. Although the Germans, among others, have made a cultural strong contribution, today’s San Antonio is predominantly Hispanic. Though now the seventh largest city in the US, it retains an unhurried, organic feel and is one of the nicest places in Texas to spend a few days.
Founded in 1691 by Spanish missionaries, San Antonio became a military garrison in 1718, and was settled by the Anglos in the 1720s and 1730s under Austin’s colonization program. It is most famous for the legendary Battle of the Alamo in 1836, when General Santa Anna wiped out a band of Texas volunteers seeking independence from Mexico. After the Civil War, it became a hard-drinking, hard-fighting “sin city,” at the heart of the Texas cattle and oil empires. Drastic floods in the 1920s wiped out much of the downtown area, but the sensitive WPA program that revitalized two of the city’s prettiest sites, La Villita and the River Walk, laid the foundations for its future as a major tourist destination. Recently several massive hotels (think Vegas) have been constructed to accommodate the booming tourism and convention industries. The military has a major presence in San Antonio, too, with four bases in the metropolitan area. Rough Guides (www.roughguides.com)
First stop, San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden at Brackenridge Park around 8:30 a.m. Sky overcast with a bit of mist, not always the best situation for taking photographs. Also known as the Sunken Gardens, the 434-acres provide a refuge in the heart of downtown San Antonio and at the headwaters of the San Antonio River. The ground first broken around 1840 by German masons, who used the readily accessible limestone to supply the construction market that was later developed and donated to the city in 1899 by George W. Brackenridge.
Second stop, Mission Antonio de Valero, commonly known as The Alamo, around 10 a.m. Originally, the Alamo served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for nearly seventy years. It was here that Colonel Travis, commander of the Alamo, and 189 defenders lost their lives in the historic fight for Texas independence. As these defenders saw it, the Alamo was the key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender their position to General Santa Anna of the Mexican Army. The defenders held out for 13 days, but the final assault came before daybreak on the morning of March 6, 1836. Among the Alamo’s garrison were Jim Bowie, renowned knife fighter, and David Crockett, famed frontiersman and former congressman from Tennessee.
People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty. (brochure)Three-hundred years of fascinating history found at the “Cradle of Texas Liberty.”
Must see at least once.
Third stop, Mission San Jose’, one of four San Antonio National Historical Park Missions around 1:30 p.m. Again, 300 years of history is “just a walk in the (national) park.” The beauty and size of the church, completed in 1782, caused one early Spanish official to declare Mission San Jose’ the Queen of the Missions. Its elaborately carved entrance and once brightly painted façade make it stand out in stark contrast to the vast frontier in which it was erected.Its village was central to a successful mission, and the layout of the mission compound shows how important the community’s life was. Massive stone walls were built for defense, and the mission residents learned to use firearms to fend off attackers. Their skill—plus imposing walls—discouraged enemy attacks.
The chain of missions established along the San Antonio River in the 1700s is a reminder of one of Spain’s most successful attempts to extend its dominion northward from New Spain (present-day Mexico). Collectively they form the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America.
Tales of riches spurred the early Spanish explorers northward across the Rio Grande. By the 1600s Spaniards penetrated areas to the east, encountering the Tejas Indians for whom Texas is named. As dreams of wealth faded, the Spanish concentrated more fully on spreading the Catholic faith—the basis of Spanish colonial society—among the frontier Indians.
The Spanish missions helped form the foundation for the city of San Antonio. Modern San Antonio early recognized the missions’ significance, and since the 1920s the city has worked to preserve them. Today these missions represent a nearly unbroken connection with the past. Carrying the legacy of generations of American Indians and Hispanics, they live as active parishes. (park brochure)
Click on Cheryl’s Digital Photography at the top if you would like to see additional San Antonio images, under Travel. Thanks for dropping by.October 27: Organ Pipe Cactus National Park Visited November 3: Downtown Tucson and Gates Pass Visited November 10: Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum Visited November 17: Sanguaro National Park Visited