Across the street from the Asilo de Beneficencia is a huge colonial structure known as the “Cuartel de Ballajá” or military barracks of Ballajá. In colonial times this building housed over 1,000 Spanish soldiers with their wives and children in the typical austere setting of an Iberian monastery.
Construction began in 1854 and the main building was completed in 1863. Later on, a separate chapel was added in 1881. The Cuartel de Ballajá is a three-story structure with large entrances at opposite ends and arched balconies surrounding an immense courtyard that covers the building’s water reservoir.
The Cuartel de Ballajá was the largest military structure constructed by the Spaniards in the New World. It was also the last. After the US invasion in 1898, the building became the headquarters of the US Army’s Infantry division and part of the Fort Brooke Military Reservation. In 1943 it was converted into a military medical facility known as the Rodríguez Hospital.
In 1992, the building’s restoration was completed and it became the home of the “Museum of the Americas” (don’t miss our complete post about the museum here). The museum features itinerating exhibits, as well as an outstanding collection of Caribbean and European American arts and crafts.
Whatever you do, don’t leave without enjoying the outstanding collection of carved saints, a tradition of excellence among the Island’s leading artisans. The museum is open Monday thru Friday, from 9:00am to 12:00n in the morning 1:00pm to 4:00pm in the afternoon. On Saturdays, from 10am to 5:00pm and Sundays from 12:00n to 5:00pm. For more information, dial 787-724-5052.