San Antonio’s scenic miles of riverwalk are one of Texas’s top tourist attractions. The walk passes by the Alamo.
If you do an Internet search for the top tourist attractions in Texas, San Antonio Riverwalk (Paseo del Rio) is sure to come up near the top of the list.
The Riverwalk is a public park, open 365 days a year. It boasts over 15 linear miles of continuous trail along the river. The network of walkways along the river, one story below San Antonio’s downtown, winds and loops under bridges. The downtown loop portion of the walk is lined with bars, restaurants, shops and hotels.
A Spanish mission was first established in San Antonio in the early 1700s. Flooding of the San Antonio River caused serious issues several times over the years as the settlement grew. In 1926, plans for a bypass channel and flood control measures were developed. Plans included draining the river bend and making it a storm sewer with a street over it. In 1927, the Olmos Dam was created. In 1929, a bypass channel was completed. Further expenditures were put on hold due to the Depression. In the late 1930s, the aesthetic value of the river was recognized. In 1941, walkways, stairways to street level, a footbridge and rock walls were completed. Over the following years, further enhancements and extensions to the riverwalk as well as additional flood control measures have occurred.
Today the walk extends for miles and connects San Antonio’s top downtown tourist attractions.
La Villita along the downtown loop portion of the Riverwalk has been an historic arts village since 1939. Its one square block features art by local and regional artists. It was once the site of a Coahuiltecan Indian village. Spanish soldiers settled here in the late 1700s. Flooding on the other side of the rivers forced relocation of other settlers to La Villita in the early 1800s. A fairly exclusive residential district developed alongside the soldier’s homes and by the 1840s the area had a European flavour. It was redeveloped in 1939 as a craft and recreational centre.
The Alamo is located just off the Riverwalk. As a Canadian growing up near the U.S. border and exposed to American television, I was familiar with the phrase “Remember the Alamo”, but didn’t know its history until my first visit here almost fifteen years ago.
The story of the Alamo begins with the creation of the first of five Spanish missions in the San Antonio area in the early 1700s. In 1793, the mission was secularized and turned over to local authorities. The Spanish military occupied the former mission and converted it to a frontier outpost and military garrison. When Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1820, the Alamo remained a military garrison with allegiance shifted to the newly formed nation.
Although Mexico adopted a federal style government, Texas was not designated as a separate state because of its sparse population. A policy of colonization was adopted, encouraging immigration from the United States. Land agents were granted responsibility for screening prospective applicants to ensure only law-abiding men and women settled in Texas. Mexico was quickly overwhelmed with the number of Americans wanting to move to Texas. In 1830, the Mexican government prohibited the Texas settlement of emigrants from the United States. That, along with calls from native-born Texans for statehood, fueled revolutionary fervour.
The Texas Revolution occurred 1835 to 1836. The rebels gained control of San Antonio and the Alamo in December 1835. In February 1836, Mexican forces arrived in San Antonio to put down the rebellion. The rebels withdrew into the fortified mission. The final attack on the Alamo came pre-dawn March 6, 1836 when Mexican forces breached the north wall. The approximately 200 defenders made a last stand, but were defeated after a fierce 90 minute battle. Rebel forces retreated to Louisiana.
In April 1836, General Sam Houston surprised a larger Mexican force near present-day Houston. After a bloody 18 minute battle, Houston’s forces defeated Mexican troops and achieved independence to cries of “Remember the Alamo.”
The Treaty of Velasco on May 14, 1836 ended the revolution and formally created the Republic of Texas, but conflict between Mexico and Texas continued for another ten years. In 1846, after a year of negotiations, Texas became part of the United States.
Information panels along walls in the interior of the Alamo provide more detail about its history than I have outlined in the brief paragraphs above. History from 1846 onward is also detailed.
Narrated 35-minute cruises on open barges along the downtown loop of the Riverwalk are available daily. Tickets can be purchased online or at a station along the Riverwalk. The Rio taxi service covers a larger section of the Riverwalk, with 39 stops.
Although the downtown loop portion of the Riverwalk, lined with restaurants and hotels, may be the most popular and best known portion to tourists, the Riverwalk extends four miles north and ten miles south, past the historic King William area and the other four missions.
Have you visited the San Antonio Riverwalk or the Alamo?