The Military Fortress of ‘El Arsenal’

During the Spanish hold on Puerto Rico and the Spanish-American war that followed, the Spanish invaders were quickly loosing their grip on most cities, including San Juan. Ownership disagreements over plantations and the fast growing smuggling businesses that arose during this time saw the Spanish losing control of the island in more than one respect. San Juan played an important military role during the eighteenth century, being a significant base for the Spanish, and was quite undeveloped due to the laws that were enforced by the Spanish themselves. This region is now known as Old San Juan, and it has gone from being the most populated area in Puerto Rico to the most visited tourist attraction in Puerto Rico. Beautifully constructed colonial buildings and quaint cobble streets fill the air of Old San Juan with nostalgia. The United States of America won the war and claimed Puerto Rico in 1898.

El Arsenal, also known as El Arsenal de la Marina, was constructed by the Spanish military forces during the Spanish-American war. The military fortress was built in the nineteenth century and can still be seen in its original form. El Arsenal is located on
La Puntilla and its entrance, which was built in a Roman style, is as
intimidating and spectacular as it was in the 1800’s. The building is grey in color and quite low. Old San Juan was a strategic location for a military base due to its remoteness and the fact that it connected by bridges to the mainland of Puerto Rico.

In order to be able to patrol the water and the land, the Spanish made use of shallow watercrafts that enabled them to patrol all the lagoons and smaller waterways. Of course this meant that the boats needed a base for docking and maintenance and so the construction of El Arsenal de la Marina began. It later became known as the place where the Spanish made a last effort to hold back the advancing Americans, and from where they fled Puerto Rico after losing the war.

El Arsenal does not fly the Spanish flag anymore, nor does it serve any
military purpose. The building was transformed into an art gallery, that now
displays wonderful pieces of decorative and fine art which are created by
local and Latin artists. It is also a significant department of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena and has three galleries within the building. The temporary exhibits that are constantly changing and evolving ensure frequent visits from tourists. The citizens of Puerto Rico also view the gallery as a popular attraction in Puerto Rico.

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