The vast majority of people know this to be the Alamo. It is the most famous of San Antonio's missions by many leaps and bounds. The modern day complex that rests deep in the heart of downtown San Antonio is most famous for the battle rather than being a mission. Out of the five missions in San Antonio, this one is the least "missionlike" of them all, simply because it has changed quite a bit through its history. What you see as you tour the grounds are only part of the former compound and many of the structures and walls were added on much later after the battle. The best place to see the earlier details are the near the main chapel simply known as The Shrine. The upper part of the Shrine was added on after the battle. However, you can see the intricate stonework in front that is a good example of Spanish colonial architecture. As you are facing the Shrine, to the left on the grounds is the Long Barracks, which was formerly the mission's convento. This was home to the Spanish clergy. Inside the shrine, there remains a baptism chamber. Also on the grounds, there is an acequia, which is an irrigation ditch meant to bring in water from the San Antonio River. These are the best features that I can think of that trace back to the Spanish days.
Unlike the other four missions, the Alamo is not administered by the park service nor is it a functioning church today. It is a a compound meant to promote Texas History and is administered by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Parking can be scarce in the immediate vicinity, especially of there is a convention or another similar activity in the region. You may have to find a pay parking lot to visit the Alamo. Many people start their tour of the missions here.
The park itself has many acequias, which are irrigation ditches that ran from the San Antonio River. Rainfall in this region was not enough to sustain crops if irrigation techniques were not used.
Much more rare than the acequia is the aqueduct. This remaining example of a Spanish aqueduct in Texas still works today as it carries water to where it is needed. This technology has existed in the world for at least a couple thousand years.
The aqueduct can be found between missions Espada and San Juan. It is well marked on the park map. There is easy access by car and parking is available.
Mission San Francisco de la Espada is the outermost of the five missions in San Antonio. During the Spanish colonial days, it was relatively remote from San Antonio even though it is just outside the main interstate loop today. It has the most rural feel of the complexes. One can still see the fields that were irrigated and farmed when Espada was established here.
While Espada might have been the last mission to be built in San Antonio, it actually started in East Texas as Mission San Francisco de los Tejas. Built in 1690, that was to be the first mission in all of Texas.
Visitors can tour the grounds which include some of the walls surrounding the compound, the foundations of Indian quarters, an original church, and the present day church with its ornate doorway and attractive bell tower. The convento is privately owned and is attached to the main church.
Sometimes, there is a blacksmith demonstration on the grounds. Here, the park ranger will actually make some items using the double bellows. He was making some hooks as I arrived. This art was just one of many taught to the natives as they entered a new life.
Mission Espada is at the end of the San Antonio Mission trail just south of I-410. The route to Espada is well marked whether you start from I-410 or if you are coming from San Juan to the north.
Mission San Juan Capistrano has its roots in east Texas. Like the other missions in that area, the establishment was not a success, so it was relocated to the San Antonio area.
In years of surplus, the crops produced in this region were sold and distributed to other parts of the state. Like all missions, the inhabitants had to be concerned with avoiding diseases as well as defend against Apache and Comanche attacks. By embracing life at the missions, the natives were giving up a large part of their culture. The new culture that evolved in missions such as this one can still be seen in many ways.
Today, the compound is a quiet reminder of the past. Just outside the entrance is a nature trail that leads towards the San Antonio River. An arched entryway leads into the mission complex. Visitors will see the remains of the Indian quarters as well as an unfinished church. There is also a working church that was build in 1772. Unlike the other churches, the entrance is from the side. A nice bell tower stands above the church. The main building is supported by buttresses, however they did not exist during the Spanish colonial period.
San Juan lies to the south of Mission San Jose by a couple of miles.
If a visitor to this park had only enough time to see one of the missions, this would be the one to recommend. Known as "The Queen of the Missions", Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo is the most restored and beautiful of missions in this area. This compound has the main visitor center and there is a film shown that can really help orientate someone to the park history.
All along the walls of the compound are the Indian quarters as well as some exhibits and a Spanish colonial bookstore. Just outside the wall near the church is the oldest gristmill in the state. It has been restored and is currently working off of the power of an acequia.
The church itself appears very European in some ways. It has very ornate stone carvings at the entrance. There is also a very nice bell tower and dome atop the building. On the side of the church is the legendary Rosa Window. There is much speculation about the origin of this most famous window in the region. Attached to the church is the remains of the convento, which has many archways. Just like the other missions in the park itself, the church continues to have services and remains an important part of the local community.
For a time, San Jose was one of the most succesful missions in Texas. Hundreds of people lived and worked here during the Spanish colonial period. The compound also served as an excellent fortress against Comanche and Apache attacks. Important crops were produced in the irrigated fields and the natives learned many important skills from the Spaniards.
San Jose is the "middle" compound of the five missions of San Antonio. It is south of Mission Concepcion by a couple of miles. There is ample parking here.
Formally known as Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion de Acuna, this establishment was transferred to the San Antonio area after first being founded in East Texas. It lies a couple of miles to the south of downtown San Antonio and is near the river. Much of what the visitor will see is original since there has not been a great deal of restoration on the structures.
At one time, the building was very colorful since the walls were painted. However, the color has faded away over the years. Inside the structure, you can find evidence of of painting. In the convento, note some of the paintings on the walls and the ceiling.
Today, the church remains active. While I was visiting, a ceremony was about to begin to celebrate a young girl's coming of age. this is known as the quinceanera. Events such as these are deeply embedded into the culture of this region and reminds the visitor that the missions have left quite a legacy.
Concepcion can be found on Mission Road south of the city. Brown park signs frequently mark the way to the missions.
Mission Espada, originally founded as San Francisco de los Tejas in 1690, is the oldest of the surviving missions in San Antonio. The mission is also the farthest from downtown. This mission has a nice combination of nature and architecture. I got to see many fall flowers, most of which were planted by the missionaries living in the sight. The Church has a really unique door with a split arch.
Sometimes, size matters, other times, it doesn't. The church of the small Mission San Juan Capistrano has the best interior decoration on the park. It's small, yet magnificant decour left an image on me.
Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo is definitly my favorit mission. It's probably the favorite of most visitors too. See, this mission still has most of it's exterior walls intacts. The beauty doesn't stop there though for in the back you can see a working mill, a granary, and some of the intact quarters. The Church itself has several detailed carvings, including the famous Ventana Rosa (Rose Window). Up front you pass through one of the entrance. To your right, you have a few Indian quarters and a bastion, the area in the wall where soldiers protected the residents with canons and rifles.
The Mission of Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepcion is one of the best preserved Missions in the Southern United States. The premises are small, but the church has promiss. Check out the original paintings on the interion walls.
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