San Juan, city (1990 pop. 437,745), capital, largest city, chief port, and commercial and cultural center of Puerto Rico, NE Puerto Rico. Coffee, tobacco, sugar, and fruit are exported from the busy port, mainly to the United States. San Juan's industries include tourism, brewing, distilling, and publishing; manufactures include metal products, cement, and clothing. The city is Puerto Rico's financial center and has many international banks and business corporations. San Juan also has an international airport. The city's old section, situated on two rocky islets guarding one of the best harbors in the Caribbean, is linked by bridges with the mainland.
The bay was named Puerto Rico [rich port] by Ponce de León, who in 1508 founded a settlement at nearby Caparra. In 1521 the settlement was moved across the bay to San Juan's present site. Strongly fortified, it withstood attacks by English buccaneers in 1595 but succumbed for a few months in 1598 to George Clifford, earl of Cumberland, and was sacked by the Dutch in 1625. San Juan's port gained increasing importance during the 18th and 19th cent. U.S. troops occupied the city during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
In the old city, a historic landmark whose narrow streets, small shops, and houses with overhanging balconies recall a colonial atmosphere, there are impressive historic buildings: El Morro castle (begun 1539), which commands the harbor entrance and is a national monument; San Cristóbal castle (begun 1631), originally a Spanish fort; and La Fortaleza (begun 1529), a former fort now used as the governor's official residence. Other San Juan landmarks include San José Church (founded c.1523), the oldest church in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere; Casa Blanca (1523); and the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, which contains the tomb of Ponce de León. Also in the city are the Univ. of Puerto Rico and its School of Tropical Medicine, the College of the Sacred Heart, a campus of the InterAmerican Univ. of Puerto Rico, and the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico. Nearby are several resort beaches (notably the Condado and Isla Verde), which attract tourists from North America.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.