San Antonio: The Alamo
There are many reasons San Antonio proudly boasts that it is "Deep in the Heart" of Texas. Geographically, the definition fits. Culturally, too. But perhaps the best reason is that, at the heart of this modern city, there's a nearly 300-year-old reminder of how Texas became the state it is today. As such, the Alamo provides a required history lesson for anyone who visits this part of the Lone Star State.
The Alamo is located just a few hundred feet east of the River Walk loop, which circles through downtown. It's easy to find on Alamo Street, in between Crockett and Houston Streets. If you get lost, just follow the crowds. They're all headed to the same place.
The Alamo's church is just part of the larger complex -- a mission that was built starting in 1724. It was secularized in 1793, and became an outpost used by the Spanish Army. Fighters from both sides used the Alamo during Mexico's war for independence. And in 1935, it became home to the men who fought against Mexico, for Texas independence.
Nowadays, the Alamo is sandwiched between the Crockett Hotel...
... the Emily Morgan Hotel (formerly the Medical Arts Building, constructed in 1924)...
... and a long row of tourist attractions (in the genre of "Ripley's Believe It or Not") across Alamo Street.
Once you've come to terms with the clash of modern society and the Texas frontier, get in line and slowly creep towards the heavy doors of the Alamo's church. Admission is free, but you might want to spring for an audio tour.
A sign at the entrance reminds visitors to hang up their phones, remove their hats, and respect the Alamo as a place where blood was shed for freedom.
Beyond the doors, you probably won't find the level of reverence you might have hoped for. But I did my part, turning off the camera for the time I was inside.
Truth be told, there isn't a lot to see inside the Alamo's church. It's a big room in the middle, with a few smaller rooms off either side, and a few exhibits, including the various flags that once flew over Texas.
Amongst the crowd, it's difficult to imagine what life was like in late February and early March, 1836, when a handful of men -- perhaps only a couple hundred -- held off an army of about 2,400. They kept the Mexicans outside the Alamo's walls for 13 days, before Santa Anna's men finally made their way inside.
David Crockett was there. So was James Bowie, famous for his knife-fighting skills. Their names appear around town almost as often as the name of the Alamo itself.
Somewhere between 180 and 258 men died at the Alamo, fighting for Texas freedom. Between 400 and 600 Mexicans were wounded or killed. Their victory fanned the flames of the independence movement. And as they say, the rest is history.
A back door allows visitors to exit the Alamo's church, and explore the rest of the grounds. The Long Barrack is out near Alamo Street, and is the oldest part of the mission. It's also the oldest building in San Antonio, built in 1724. It and the church are the only two surviving buildings of the original Alamo -- the complex was, at one time, much larger..
You can walk inside the Long Barrack, where you will find interpretive signs and displays...
... and an old millstone, brought to San Antonio by settlers from the Canary Islands.
In the Cavalry Courtyard, there's a good chance you can catch a presentation by some Alamo historians.
Once you've taken it all in, step back to the 21st century.
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