San Antonio Missions

 United States of America
N29 19 41 W98 27 36
Date of Inscription: 2015
Criteria: (ii)
Property : 300.8 ha
Buffer zone: 2,068 ha
Ref: 1466
News/Reviews: United States Of America, US – San Antonio Missions

The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a 12.4-kilometer (7.7-mile) stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas. The complexes were built in the early eighteenth century and as a group they illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. In addition to evangelizing the area’s indigenous population into converts loyal to the Catholic Church, the missions also included all the components required to establish self-sustaining, socio-economic communities loyal to the Spanish Crown.

The missions’ physical remains comprise a range of architectural and archaeological structures including farmlands (labores), cattle grounds (ranchos), residences, churches, granaries, workshops, kilns, wells, perimeter walls and water distribution systems. These can be seen as a demonstration of the exceptionally inventive interchange that occurred between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of all involved, but most dramatically in those of the Coahuiltecans and other indigenous hunter-gatherers who, in a matter of one generation, became successful settled agriculturists. The enclosed layout of each mission complex and their proximity to each other, the widespread sharing of knowledge and skills among their inhabitants, and the early adoption of a common language and religion resulted in a people and culture with an identity neither wholly indigenous nor wholly Spanish that has proven exceptionally persistent and pervasive.

Criterion (ii): The San Antonio Missions are an example of the interweaving of the cultures of the Spanish and the Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples, illustrated in a variety of elements, including the integration of the indigenous settlements towards the central plaza, the decorative elements of the churches which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous natural designs, and the post-secularization evidence which remains in several of the missions and illustrates the loyalty to the shared values beyond missionary rule. The substantial remains of the water distribution systems are yet another expression of this interchange between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of those involved.

Suggested Base:

San Antonio is the third largest city in the state of Texas and the 7th largest in the United States. It’s the 24th largest metropolitan area in the country. Visited by more than 31 million annual visitors, San Antonio is a beautiful city at the axis of three different geological terrains: Hill Country, South Texas Plains and Prairie and Lakes. There’s a lot to do in this city: fine art museums, historical missions and plenty of amusement parks in addition to great dining and lots of drinking. The culture and people are vibrant and interesting. San Antonio’s downtown is one of the most lively in the nation. San Antonio is considered to be the cradle of Texan liberty. Its most well-known landmark is the Alamo, the site of the famous battle (1836) where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie were killed. [read more]

New Braunfels is a resort town in the Texas Hill Country. New Braunfels is usually considered a vacation destination. While it has no university of its own, it has a distinct college town feel, probably due to the huge numbers of students from universities in nearby San Antonio and San Marcos. As the name implies, it has a German heritage, and many of the local attractions capitalize on this. Most of the town’s revenue comes from tourism drawn by the incredible rivers, including the Comal River, which is the world’s shortest, entirely located within the city limits. New Braunfels is also the home of several other smaller “towns” within the city. One of these “towns” is Gruene, TX, home of the Gristmill Restaurant and Gruene Hall. Personal vehicle travel is the only effective motorized transportation in town. Print, download, or buy a local map and brave the roads. [read more]

Austin is a city of over 900,000 people in the Hill Country region of the U.S. state of Texas. It is the capital of Texas and a college town, and also a center of alternative culture away from the major cities on the US coasts, though the city is rapidly gentrifying with its rising popularity. Austin’s attitude is commonly emblazoned about town on T-Shirts and bumper stickers that read: “Keep Austin Weird.” Austin is also marketed as the “Live Music Capital of the World” due to the large number of venues. Austin weather is generally nice most of the year; activities are generally not limited by season. However, as Austin lies within Central Texas, be prepared to deal with the long, hot summers if you are visiting between May and September. [read more]

4 replies »

  1. The San Antonio River Walk is such an enjoyable part of the city! Loved wandering and exploring along it as well as going on one of the boat rides offered.


  2. Each of these mission sites tells part of the story in a different way, depending on how much of the site has been preserved. The outlying walls and buildings showcase where the religious figures would have lived, where the students would have lived who were being taught by the missionaries, and a lot of what the daily life would have looked like for these early Spanish colonizers.


  3. The best way to explore these 18th-century beauties is to follow the river by hiking or biking the eight-mile Mission Trail. After visiting the Alamo downtown, head to the Blue Star Arts Complex, where you can set off on foot or rent a two-wheeler from Blue Star Bike Shop or bcyclesatx. A tip: stock up on snacks and picnic supplies (grab-n-go wraps, cold-pressed juices, homemade spent-grain brewery crackers) at Blue Star Provisions before heading south to explore Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada.

    Unlike the Alamo, San Antonio’s four southernmost missions all remain active parishes. The expansive Mission San José, completed in 1782, draws crowds to its mariachi mass every Sunday, though you can visit any day of the week to admire its ornate Rose Window and buy souvenirs (colorful serapes, $3 bags of freshly ground whole wheat flour from Pioneer Flour Mills) at the gift shop.

    The Alamo is a must-see, of course, but I highly recommend getting away from the craziness downtown and heading south to explore its four (larger, lovelier) sister missions along the San Antonio River.

    Of San Antonio’s five 18th-century missions, Mission Concepción is the only one that has never collapsed. It’s also the only one that’s named for a woman. (Hmmmm.) Inside, some of its original frescoes, adorned with geometric and floral designs, are still visible. A tip: if you’re intrigued by the intersection of architecture and astronomy, visit at 6:30 p.m. on August 15 (the Feast of the Assumption of Mary), when the sun streams through two round windows on the mission’s western wall and perfectly spotlights both a painting of Mary behind the altar and a spot on the sanctuary floor that marks the exact center of the cross-shaped building. Those Franciscans sure were clever.

    As the most isolated of San Antonio’s historic missions, Mission San Juan, with its bright white chapel, gives you the best sense of what life was like for the Franciscan friars and native Coahuiltecans who lived in this self-sustaining community in the 18th century. A tip: You can follow the shaded Yanaguana Trail down to a quiet stretch of the original San Antonio River channel (it’s not, in other words, your typical touristy River Walk experience!). Happy travels, y’all!


  4. What we’re dealing with are wonderful buildings that were built out in the middle of nowhere with some master masons and Native Americans who had never seen buildings like this before.


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