San Juan’s Umbrella Walk
by Connie Brisson ~
One of the places we’ve traveled to that was a great surprise to me was OLD SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico.
It’s a marvelous array of grand old architecture (over 400 restored Spanish colonial-style buildings, all dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries), blue cobblestone streets, colonial churches, numerous plazas, colorful buildings and ancient fortresses.
Founded by Spanish colonists back in 1521, San Juan is the oldest city under U.S. domain. The old fortified city (partially encircled by an ancient wall which is now the area of “Old San Juan”) is made up of seven square blocks.
We arrived there at the end of a Caribbean cruise we took in December 2018. Everywhere we walked in the old city, there was something beautiful to see. As we explored the many blue cobblestone streets, I gasped as we came upon a street that had uncounted numbers of colorful umbrellas covering it.
Known as “The Umbrella Street,” it can be found at the end of Fortaleza Street within the walled city of Old San Juan. Here the umbrellas were not only used as shelter from the sun’s rays or rain, but as a colorful and unique artistic display. I read somewhere that it was intended to bring color back into the lives of the people after Hurricane Maria (a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated Dominica, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in September 2017).
However, only a portion of that long street is covered with umbrellas – you must walk down toward La Fortaleza, a fortress and residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico (this fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site). This part of the street is closed to traffic and features a number of different shops and restaurants.
On a plaque on Fortaleza Street there was this description: “PASEO DE SOMBRILLAS – The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello and the First Lady, Beatriz Rossello promote art as it moves the soul, awakens the senses and at very special moments, represents the spirit of its people. This installation, full of joy and fun pays tribute to everything that makes Puerto Rico a unique place.
Just as umbrellas move fluidly with the wind, Puerto Rico is a place that flows and majestically embraces every challenge it faces. It is an open invitation to all those who visit us to feel comfortable and explore our island within tall the multiple experiences they will have to discover.”
Umbrellas are not only an attraction in Puerto Rico but in the streets of some other cities of the world. Other cities that have their own versions of umbrella streets include the “Gracia” neighborhood in Barcelona, Águeda, Portugal, Miracle Garden in Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Old Street in Antalya, Turkey and Vinopolis Piazza, located near the London Bridge, London, England.
We even have a version of it here in Edmonton at the Bountiful Farmers’ Market (but it’s inside the building, not on a street).
As I was writing this, I found a website that said that the umbrellas have been changed to pink kites instead. I guess I’ve got to go back to see that!
Connie Brisson is the publisher and editor of Mosaic Mind, Body and Spirit Magazine since 2004. From a simple black and white newsprint format that began in 1996, she transformed it into a beautiful full color, gloss magazine that was distributed throughout Alberta, Canada until the end of 2018 (with a readership of over 100,000). It’s now evolved into an online magazine that continues to help people heal, transform and live their best lives. www.mosaicmagazine.ca