The heritage missions

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Miaaion San Jose II © SACVB

Mission San Jose II © SACVB

Texas has no World Heritage Sites but that may change next year as the  Spanish colonial missions of San Antonio, Texas (to include the Alamo), as the United States nominates them for inclusion on the World Heritage List.  If successful it will become only the 23rd site in the United States. That list includes Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

As the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in North America, Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) were built in the early 1700s to convert Native Americans to Christianity and help settle this region under the flag of Spain.

Studded along the San Antonio River, each of the five missions is a day’s horseback ride (or three miles) from the next. They have flourished for decades, blending native traditions with Spanish ways. In years since, they have seen epic battles and been under the rule of Mexico, the Republic of Texas and, finally, the United States.

As protected historic sites, the missions host millions of visitors each year. All, except the Alamo, are still active Catholic parishes that serve surrounding communities and, in some cases, the descendants of the original people served by the missions.  Some visitors hike from mission to mission, some prefer a self-guided tour but whatever is preferred, the missions attract a lot of visitors.

As we wrote a little while ago, the missions are now linked by the newly expanded River Walk, a network of garden-bordered paths along the San Antonio River that connect much of the city’s history with hotels, restaurants, theatres and more. With their limestone facades and picturesque bell towers, the missions bring to life a bygone era. All are open to the public free of charge and tours both guided and self-guided are available.

Mission San José, often referred to as the “Queen of the Missions,” provides an ideal starting point. Its museum exhibits artifacts that explain the diverse tasks found within the Spanish missions. An on-site theatre shows the award-winning film, “Gente de Razón,” every half hour which tells the story of the native people of 18th-century South Texas, their role in colonising New Spain and the impact of the Spanish missions.

There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of the Alamo but how many knew it was a mission?  Living history demonstrations and battle re-enactments also play vital roles in the educational offerings of the modern-day Alamo.   

San Antonio is dedicated to historic preservation. The city is a leader in the reuse of its buildings, the conservation of historic sites and the preservation of architectural feats such as the missions.

To learn more about San Antonio’s historic missions, click here.

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