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I’ve wanted to visit the Capitol building since my first trip to PR in 2009. We have driven L. Muñoz Rivera Avenue, past the Capitol many times… if you take the trolley from the docks to El Morro
, you can’t miss it. It is a very grand and beautiful structure.
Last week, I was contacted by the Tourism Promoter for the Office of Legislative Services
, Ms. Keisha Sosa. She asked if I would be interested in a tour of the Capitol Building so we jumped at the chance.
The one hour tour was free!
We made plans for an afternoon tour so we could do lunch in Old San Juan
, first. I hate going into San Juan for business or shopping without hitting ‘Old Town’. More about that and running into the Governor
at the end of the post.
We are still in the ‘Low Season’ so we had the Capitol building almost entirely to ourselves. They often host bus loads of schoolchildren and cruise ship tourists so this was much more relaxed. Tours are available in both Spanish and English. Our tour guide, Mr. Jerry Pablos
spoke perfect English. Not only that, but he was extremely knowledgeable. He fielded our questions without hesitation. He could recite dates, names and places like he had been there.
It was a very informative tour.
We were met at the security booth, just inside the main entrance by Keisha and Jerry where we were given a copy of the ‘Official Visitors Magazine’ along with a copy of ‘TravelMaps’. These freebies can also be had at the
main office of tourism down by the docks, opposite where the ferry runs to Cataño
. The map is very handy. There was also a card and bookmark with contact info about arranging a tour to see the Capitol building.
You must make an appointment to take the tour, but that’s easy.
Their website is at Capitol Tours
, or request a tour via email- firstname.lastname@example.org
or you can call 787-721-5200 and then ask for extension 301. Tours are open from Monday through Friday, 8:30AM to 5:00PM. I have to admit, the website did not work well for me. I hope they can fix it soon.
If you simply want to get a few shots of the outside without taking the tour, Trolley Stop 18A will put you very close. Walking around the outside of the Capitol Building you will pass several different monuments, each one honoring people and events important in Puerto Rico. Then it’s a short walk to Fort San Cristobal
or on to El Morro
. There are more trolley stops at each of these.
After greetings, we proceeded to check out the rotunda.
It is an immense space, open to the galleries on the third floor. They can be reached from marble staircases flanking either side or a pair of small,
ornately decorated elevators. At ground level, the rotunda features a central display of Puerto Rico’s Constitution, the original papers. All behind glass. Also located on the main floor, mounted to the 4 outside walls are 12 high relief white marble panels displaying the history of PR from the 15th to 20th Century.
Starting from the 3rd floor, there are mosaic murals at each corner depicting 4 major events in Puerto Rico’s past. The dome itself is completely covered in art with the very top featuring the state seal of Puerto Rico in stained glass.
Italian marble covers almost everything on the inside along with marble from Tennessee, Alabama and Spain. The exterior is done in white marble from the state of Georgia.
When in session, the public has gallery access to both houses of government from the 3rd floor. Each House features a 4 sided viewing gallery that will accommodate up to 500 visitors at one time. We got access to the Senate Gallery for photos. Senate colors are burgundy and the House of Reps is green. A tradition that dates to Rome and the English House of Commons.
The Mahogany used to furnish both chambers was harvested locally and crafted here in PR. The chambers themselves feature ornate ceilings with lots of ornate molding.
Off the back of the 3rd floor are small galleries flanking both Houses featuring paintings of past Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House. There are a couple of other interesting paintings as well.
The Capitol has been a work in progress from the very beginning, but it has matured well. It is definitely one of the most outstanding structures on the island. A building the people of Puerto Rico take much pride in.
A little Bit of History-
Prior to 1952, when Puerto Rico attained Commonwealth status, governors were appointed by the US Congress. There has been a House of Representatives since 1900 and a State Senate since 1917.
The idea for a formal Capitol building was put forth by Don Luis Muñoz Rivera in 1907
, a legislator at the time. A budget for design and construction was approved. Unfortunately, the committee involved, chose a design that was not popular with the rest of the Legislature so the project ground to a halt.
After much effort a second design was approved in 1921, but it only got as far as the construction of the basement before it was shut down.
After more revisions a 3rd design based on the ‘look’ of the US Capitol
was started in 1925. It is based on a combination of 20th Century Neoclassical Renaissance and Roman Classical styles.
Most of the old basement was salvaged and the new structure rests above it.
The final design was the work of Rafael Carmoega-Morales
. The building was formally inaugurated on February 11th, 1929 at a cost of between $2.5 and $3.0 Million Dollars US.
Some of the artistic interior work was not finished until the early 1960’s.
El Capitolio de Puerto Rico was entered into the National Registry of Historic Places by the Dept. of the Interior in November of 1977.
A new display case for the Puerto Rican Constitution was done in 1992.
I’m only glossing over the highlights. A much more detailed explanation is provided by the tour guide.
Restoration efforts are ongoing as plaster relief is very delicate and needs a lot of attention.
This is by far, one of the best tours I have been on. For patriots and students of history, it’s a must see and I intend to return at some point for more photos.
A special thanks to Ms. Keisha Sosa and Mr. Jerry Pablos
for sharing their time with us. Of course it rates 5 Skulls, ARRG!!!
The old photo of the Capitol was taken by me First Mate’s Father when he was stationed in PR. That was in the 1930’s shortly after all the exterior work was done. It’s the real deal. We have many more pictures he took in PR that we plan to share.
Lunch in Old SJ and quick handshake with the Gov!
I had read on Caribbean Business
sometime back that the hasidic Jewish community was going to open a Kosher diner. So we went looking for it. I’m not Jewish, but I love the food. We did find the Jewish Welcome Center
, but the pizza restaurant is only open during the tourist season. The Falafels will have to wait. Bummer. BTW
– The little place called ‘San Juan Deli’
may be a place to eat, but it’s not a deli
. They did not know what a Reuben was. So we passed on eating there.
We walked back to Trolley Stop #3
because there are lots of great little restaurants and bars in the area. It’s also across the street from the parking garage we used for the day. The shot of the open trolley shows what you want to keep an eye out for when in OSJ. These are new since I was here last and free.
Just by Coincidence..
I had noticed several shiny black GM Suburbans and a sedan and figured someone important must be near by, eating lunch. Especially with all the ‘suits’ hanging out. A US official from stateside maybe?
Then I saw our Governor, the Honorable Alejandro Garcia Padilla stroll up.
I managed to get just a couple of shots before he ran up to me to shake my hand. Then he’s gone in the next moment. At least I have the shots to prove it happened. A total coincidence. I didn’t even get to tell him I was from Coamo (his brother is the mayor). I’m sure I looked like just another tourist in Old SJ for the day.
It happened so fast, me First Mate didn’t even see the Governor.
Maybe someday I’ll get to shoot the inside of the Governor’s Mansion. That would be an true honor!
After that, we ducked into Lupis Mexican Grill
for lunch. I had a couple of fish tacos with Parcha (Passion fruit) hot sauce (from PR). It was a perfect complement to the tacos… not very hot at all. Me First Mate had the cheese quesadilla. We washed it down with Parcha juice. It was a little too sweet for my taste, but it was very refreshing. Service was bilingual,
fast, friendly and the food was great. Prices were typical for Old Town ($$)
. No complaints, whatsoever.
After that, it was off to the Capitol Tour.
What a Great Day to be in Puerto Rico!!
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