Texas isn’t Texas without a visit to the Alamo. The last of the five historic missions lining the San Antonio River, the Alamo — formerly the Mission San Antonio de Valero, is best remembered for the climactic battle between the Texians and Mexicans in 1836. Today, the chapel not only serves to remember the fight for Texan independence, but also to acknowledge the history of the natives when the Spaniards colonized the region.
The iconic structure has transformed greatly since the guns fell silent 174 years ago. The centre of the Alamo compound is the chapel, one of the few remaining buildings on site, has undergone several modifications since construction was started 1724. It’s interesting to note that the chapel was never finished by Spanish missionaries – the facade and roof were completed well after the 1836 battle. The original convent, which became the long barracks, still juts out to the west of the chapel. The long barracks is now home to a museum dedicated to the native Indians who inhabited the area during Spanish colonization with displays and artifacts from the period. The rest of the exterior walls and fortifications were removed as other buildings popped up due to the growth of San Antonio.
After the missionaries left the compound, the Alamo eventually turned into a fort with ramparts and walls enclosing the compound. The Spanish originally held the Alamo as a post before, but fled after a skirmish with Texian independence seekers during the Texas Revolution.
In February 1836, Mexican President and General, Antonio López de Santa Anna, lead thousands of troops into San Antonio to quash the rebellion and reassert his power over anyone attempting to separate from the country. The Mexican Army surrounded the Alamo and laid siege to the fort which was protected by some 250 Texians. For 13 days, the Texians were able to keep the Mexicans at bay, but were overcome in a bloody early morning assault on March 6th that overwhelmed the compound. Numerous myths surround the legendary David “Davy” Crockett and James “Jim” Bowie with fellow defenders William B. Travis and James Bonham; though history recorded only a few survivors escaped the final fight – a handful of women, children and slaves.
The call to save the Alamo wasn’t heard until the Daughters of the Republic of Texas started fundraising to preserve a piece of Texan history near the turn of the 20th century. Spearheaded by Adina de Zavala and Clara Driscoll, the road to restoration was a rocky journey filled with differing visions on how best to care for the site. Eventually the property behind the Alamo was turned into a park with a museum, gift shop and other exhibits and the front becoming a plaza. It’s not uncommon to see visitors gathered outside taking pictures of the iconic facade of the chapel at all hours of the day and night.
Inside the chapel are displays and signs pertaining the historic fight and those that gave their lives. At the rear of the chapel, under the six flags of Texas (Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, United States of America, and Confederate States of America), is a set of doors from the Veramendi Palace, a now demolished residence on Soledad Street. These doors had once protected the entrance to what had been the home to the family of James Bowie’s wife, Ursula Veramendi. Another collection of flags decorate walls of the chapel – a memory of the states and countries from where many of the Alamo defenders had been born. Some of the original painted walls remain, protected by glass, amongst the bullet holes from now quiet rifles.
The Alamo is open year-round, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Hours vary depending on the season, usually from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm CST, sometimes later during summer. Signs at the entrance of the chapel ask that visitors remove their hats, refrain from photography and speak in low voices out of respect for those who fought and perished inside. Admission is free, but donations are welcomed.
Visit the Alamo web site for history, visiting hours and more information on the location.
Tags1836, Adina de Zavala, Antonio López de Santa Anna, Clara Driscoll, David Crockett, history, James Bonham, James Bowie, Mexico, photos, San Antonio, Texas, The Alamo, William B. Travis
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