San Antonio, Texas
Beginning in the 16th century, Franciscan missionaries and Spanish
soldiers began exploring and colonizing the river valleys north
of Mexico. San Antonio exists today as a result of five thriving
missions erected between 1718 and 1731. This chain includes
San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), Concepcion, San José y San
Miguel de Aguayo, San Juan de Capistrano, and San Francisco
de la Espada. This concentration of Catholic missions represents
some of the finest examples of Spanish art and architecture
in North America.
The Missions were important to the Spanish government to secure
their claims to the vast frontier in North America from English
and French encroachment. They influenced the area politically,
religiously, and culturally, providing a safe, walled and fortified
environment in which native peoples, soldiers, and settlers
coexisted and thrived. Missions included a convento
and storerooms, but the church was always the focal point.
The Mission churches had elaborately- carved stone façades,
sometimes brightly painted to inspire and inform the converts
and parishioners. The educational and vocational aspects of
the missions also impacted the area’s agriculture and commerce.
The five San Antonio Missions are a unit of the National Park
Service, and were documented by HABS in the 1930s. The documentation
was expanded in the 1980s and continues to inform the maintenance
and restoration of the missions. San Antonio was connected to the Spanish
colonial empire by caminos reales, or road networks. El Camino
Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail was added to the National
Trails System by act of Congress in 2004. This trail linked
Mexico City through Texas and into Louisiana to the Spanish
colonial capital at Los Adaes.