When it’s time for a homeschool history lesson, and you live in San Antonio, what do you do? Visit the Alamo, of course! My son, F.T., and I visited the Alamo last month, and it got me thinking about the significance of the Alamo for everyone in San Antonio—even me, and I wasn’t born here.
It’s Fiesta time in San Antonio, and the Alamo is at the heart of Fiesta. Perhaps you’ve heard that the original Fiesta event, dating back to 1891, is the Battle of the Flowers parade, a celebration in Alamo Plaza of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, a decisive battle in Texas’s war for independence from Mexico. Learn more about the Battle of the Flowers parade (it’s on Friday, April 25 this year) and many more events in Brooke’s guide to Fiesta. Also, don’t miss Kelly’s thrifty and practical tips and Alvina’s instructions for making cascarones.
But, as we enjoy Fiesta, let’s remember “the reason for the season,” as it were: the Alamo, as a symbol of Texas’s independence, and as one of San Antonio’s historic missions.
F.T. and I visited the Alamo in mid-March, as the immaculately landscaped grounds were bursting into spring bloom. We toured the shrine (note: no photography inside), looked at the artifacts and exhibits, strolled around the compound, and walked through the gift shop. I let F.T. soak it all in, then I asked him some questions about what he saw. Walking back to our van, these were some of his comments:
That was fun!
Oh, that’s good.
They had battle flags, and other flags.
They had weapons, and guns, and canons.
The exhibits about the Battle of the Alamo made a big impression on him. Inside the shrine, the walls are lined with state flags and international flags to represent the origins of the defenders of the Alamo. A special exhibit, “Standing Their Ground: Tejanos at the Alamo,” running through June 2014, highlights the stories of the eight men of Hispanic or Native American descent who died defending the Alamo. Read more: “Exhibit on Tejanos at Alamo opens Friday”, Scott Huddleston, San Antonio Express-News, February 19, 2014.
F.T. enjoyed looking at the historic knives, swords, guns, rifles, canons, etc. inside and around the Alamo. While you are downtown, see even more Alamo artifacts at the Briscoe Museum of Western Art, described in my earlier post.
F.T. also commented:
There was a river.
He was fascinated by the acequia that runs across the grounds of the Alamo. He asked me why there was a special river to bring water to the Alamo, and what the water was used for. I explained that there used to be a farm there, and they needed water to drink, and for the horses and cows, and to irrigate the crops. Back then, the water moved in canals rather than in pipes.
The acequia is a durable reminder of the Alamo’s origins as Mission San Antonio de Valero, part of a network of 18th century missions that are a durable reminder of the collision between Spanish and Native American cultures. To the south, four more missions—Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada—make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. All of the missions are educational and kid-friendly; I recommend that you plan some visits with your family this summer. (Note: Mission Espada’s church will be closed for renovation between Easter and Christmas in 2014.) Also, all five missions have been nominated for World Heritage status.
A vast irrigation network, including the acequia on the grounds of the Alamo, once served all of the missions and the city’s early civilian and military settlements. Hundreds of years later, maintaining a secure water supply for the city of San Antonio is still an important concern.
F.T. noticed another sign of the Alamo’s spiritual heritage: the shrine’s cross-shaped floor plan, dating back to when it was the mission’s church sanctuary. Even today, the mood inside the shrine is hushed and reverent.
Admission to the Alamo is free, but it’s hard to avoid the gift shop on the way out. In addition to souvenirs, the gift shop has a selection of books for history buffs of all ages. We picked up a copy of The Alamo Story and Battleground Tour and look forward to another trip downtown to follow in the author’s footsteps.
The Alamo may be the most famous tourist attraction in San Antonio, but there are many other points of interest nearby. Katy wrote about the giant map of the United States in the patio outside the Convention Center. Hemisfair Park, home of the Magik Theatre and much more, will be under renovation from mid-2014 until mid-2015, but I expect that it will emerge from the process better than ever—just take a look at the concept drawings: “Hemisfair Park ‘Play Escape’ Design Approved”, Iris Dimmick, Rivard Report, November 21, 2013. The city is also studying changes to Alamo Plaza that might make it easier to imagine the Alamo in its colonial context. Read more: “Bernal revives Alamo Plaza conversation”, Benjamin Olivo, Downtown Blog (San Antonio Express-News), December 9, 2013.
Fiesta San Antonio has grown into a diverse, weeks-long celebration, but the story of Fiesta begins at the Alamo. If you are new to San Antonio, or just have been wondering what all the fuss is about, I hope that you found this post to be helpful. Please leave a comment and share your memories and experiences of the Alamo!