The Oldest City in the United States gets ready to turn 500

by Nov 16, 2021Bocaítos, Puerto Rico0 comments

Fodors Travel takes a look at San Juan, Puerto Rico, as the city turns 500 years, technically making it the oldest city in the United States (Readers will note that St. Augustine, Florida likes to claim this title, but its founding happened in 1565, more than 44 years after San Juan was established). The piece highlights Puerto Rico’s colonial history, and how San Juan’s celebrations encapsulate the nuances of the territory’s history.

“Old San Juan is turning 500 this year, making it the oldest city in the United States (Puerto Rico joined the United States in 1898 following the Spanish-American War). The city is celebrating its fifth centenary with a panoply of events that will be ongoing through June 2022. But what does it mean to celebrate 500 years of being colonized?

…what I discovered in speaking with most Puerto Ricans is not a focus on anti-colonial sentiment, per se, but more on a celebration of the island’s different cultures and how they have become blended over the years. 

“We are a mix of Taíno, African, and Spanish,” explains Davelyn Tardi, who also works for Discover Puerto Rico. “It’s in our veins at the end of the day.” That is why the island’s culinary and musical traditions are so important because they reverberate with the souls of the ancestors. Take bomba, for example. The drum-driven dance, which also gives its name to the instruments and the musical genre, harks back to 17th-century West Africans enslaved on Puerto Rico’s sugarcane plantations, who used the music for political and spiritual expression.”

Celebrations in San Juan kicked off this summer and will continue through June 2022.