By order of the governorgovernor: in the Spanish colonies, the governor was the figure immediately beneath the viceroy in political and legal affairs. Like the alcaldes mayores, the governors could not be vecinos, encomenderos or owners of land or mines in the jurisdiction. When the title was added to that of Captain General, the position also implied the highest military authority. Governorships were applied to sparsely populated colonies or frontier zones. Puerto Rico was a frontier zone. of the Indies, Nicolás Ovando, Juan Ponce de León was charged with colonizing and populating the island of Borinquén. The governor himself had stipulated the characteristics of the site (close to the coast and the deposits of gold) and had chosen the name, Caparra, in honor of the Roman city of Capera, close to his home towntown, founding: A group of vecinos that wanted to found a town had to grant a power of attorney to one or more other vecinos to represent them before the governor and viceroy. This person could authorize the founding of the town and the establishment of a parish. The grantors of the power of attorney had to be a majority in the given territory and more than ten in number. Once the case had been made, the governor appointed a capitán poblador or settlement official to represent the vecinos and one or more delegates, who usually lived in nearby cabildos vecinos to receive the necessary documentation. Proof was required that the settlement was so far from a church that it was very difficult for the settlers to partake of sacraments and municipal services. In general, proof was provided of the absence or bad condition of roads and bridges. If the petition was approved, it was required that the vecinos mark off the new municipality and build public works such as a church, a parish house, a government house (Casa del Rey), a slaughterhouse, and a cemetery, and to set aside land for the town square or plaza and the commons (ejidos). The vecinos were expected to cover the cost of building these works by levying special assessments. Usually one of the land owners donated some land for the founding. Once the requirements had been met, the governor authorized the founding of the town and the parish, and he appointed a Lieutenant at War who usually was the same capitán poblador. of Cáceres in Spain.
Although it had good breezes, the site lacked an important element: easy and direct access to the bay, which was vital for its subsistence. The most direct access was through the mangrove swamps that formed a nearly impenetrable barrier. It is probably for this reason that Caparra was destined not to become the most important city on the island.
Little is known of the physical layout of this first Spanish settlement in Puerto Rico. With few exceptions, the majority of the structures of the city of Caparra were built with perishable materials. The town was built around a public plaza, which was the site of business and gatherings. The residences were huts or small houses. There were also corrals, stables and warehouses.
The house of the Ponce de León family, however, stood out. Its walls were built in sections and made of stones and mud tamped into elongated molds. Once the mixture dried, the next section was added until the desired height of the wall was reached. Built facing the plaza, the medium-sized house had a parapet and battlements.
In 1519, the settlement of Caparra was moved to the islet of San Juan, located at the entrance of the bay, a site that was less vulnerable to attacks from the Taino natives and with better access for transporting merchandise. Over time, the collective memory forgot the exact site where the old town was located. The name of the area remained, however, "Pueblo Viejo," or Old Town.
During the construction of the section of Highway 2 between Guaynabo and Bayamón in 1917, the ruins of Caparra were uncovered and, unfortunately, some of the structures were destroyed. From 1935 to 1938, Puerto Rican archaeologist and historian Adolfo de Hostos directed archaeological excavations that confirmed the site of the old house of Ponce de León, possibly located in the center of the town.
In 1956, under the direction of Ricardo Alegría, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture continued the excavation of the ruins. Due to the widening of Highway 2, the ruins were moved to their current location. What remains of the settlement is the property of the Institute, which consolidated the walls of the Ponce de León family house and converted the grounds into a park. A museum was built to display historical and archaeological objects and documents related to the conquest and colonization of the island. Since 1984, it has been listed on the United States Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Catalog of Properties, National Register of Historic Sites, State Office of Historic Conservation, Office of the Governor, 1995.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 08, 2010.