From the World Heritage inscription for the San Antonio Missions:
The site encompasses a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas, as well as a ranch located 37 kilometers to the south. It includes architectural and archaeological structures, farmlands, residences, churches, and granaries, as well as water distribution systems. The complexes were built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century and illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. The San Antonio Missions are also an example of the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures, illustrated by a variety of features, including the decorative elements of churches, which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous designs inspired by nature.
The Missions of San Antonio are United States’s newest world heritage site. In fact, it was listed at the World Heritage Convention in Bonn, Germany just one week before I visited.
The site consists of 5 missions in the San Antonio area. They are:
- The Alamo
- Mission San José
- Mission San Juan
- Mission Concepción
- Mission Espada
The Alamo is owned and maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The other four missions are run by the National Park Service.
Most people visiting San Antonio will probably visit The Alamo, which is the most popular tourist attraction in the State of Texas. Given the historic events which occurred at The Alamo and its role in Texas independence, not to mention the fact that it is right in the middle of San Antonio, it is no surprise. On the plus side, it is also very close to the San Antonio Riverwalk.
However, from a visitation perspective, I think The Alamo might be the least interesting of the five missions. It is by far the smallest, and it surrounded by touristy things like a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit The Alamo (you should), so much as you should visit the other missions as well.
All the missions are relatively close, lying only 2-3 miles apart from each other. If you have a car it is quite easy to drive between the missions with less than a 10 minute drive between them.
The other missions are much larger than The Alamo and give you a better feel for how they were laid out. The rest still have their walls and courtyard intact.
It should also be noted that the missions, which were built as Catholic churches by the Spanish Empire, are still functional churches today. They still have services on Sundays and events like weddings do occasionally take place. Unless you wish to attend a service, you might want to avoid visiting on Sunday mornings.
Along with Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the Statue of Liberty, the missions are the only urban world heritage sites in the US. As such they are very easy to visit if you are in the San Antonio area.
View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.
View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.