Just a couple of blocks east of “La Barandilla” you will find Colombus Square, the beautiful square at the main entrance to the Old City better known to the “sanjuaneros” as “Plaza Colón”. In colonial times, this square was called Plaza Santiago, because it sat right behind Santiago Gate.
Santiago Gate was also known as “la puerta de tierra” or “the gate to land”. This was because it was the only one of the four original gates that led to land. The rest all faced the water.
The original city wall actually had five gates, but historians mainly mention four because the fifth gate was the one leading to the city cemetery “Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis”. The other four gates were: “la puerta de San Juan”, that faced the water, “la puerta de San Justo”, at the southern end of San Justo Street, “la puerta de España”, at the southern end of Tanca street, and “la puerta de Santiago”.
Imagine yourself for a moment standing at Plaza Colón in the mid 19th Century. The statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo, in Italian), facing south in the middle of the square didn’t exist. Instead, there was the statue of Juan Ponce de León that is presently at Plaza San José on San Sebastián street. The Government Reception Hall, on the left hand side of Christopher Columbus, didn’t exist either. Instead there was the eastern corridor of the city wall, Santiago Gate”, and a substantial part of Fort San Cristóbal that were all demolished in 1897.
Why were they demolished? Well, at the end of the 19th century the people of Old San Juan felt that the city walls were to constricting. So in 1897 they tore down a section that went all the way from Paseo de la Princesa to Fort San Cristóbal, allowing the city to expand to the east.
Had this section of the city wall not been torn down, today Old San Juan would be the only walled city in the New World.