86. The birthplace of the Spanish colonization of California
California Road Trip #5
By Miguel Pérez
Of the original landmarks, there is nothing left to see here. And yet this beautiful hilltop park with great views of San Diego is the place where this city was born.
After an overland expedition from Baja California, Mexico, this is the spot chosen to build a fort, the San Diego Presidio, and a mission, San Diego de Alcalá, in 1769 by Spanish Army Commander Gaspar de Portolá and Franciscan Padre Junípero Serra.
This is now called Presidio Park, and it requires steep driving and even steeper hiking to get to its summit. But when you get there, wow!
The views of the entire region are impressive. Immediately you understand why this hilltop was chosen to build an impenetrable fort.
Known as the "Mother of all Missions," San Diego de Alcalá was the first of 21 missions built along the coast of California - to convert the natives to Christianity.
Leading a group of Franciscan priests, and with a lot of help from the natives, Serra is credited for building the first nine of those missions.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo had claimed California for the Spanish empire in 1542, but it wasn't until 1769 that Portolá and Serra opened the gateway to Spanish and Mexican settlement, and Catholicism.
Although there is no trace of the fort and the original mission in Presidio Park, the area where they stood is now marked by plaques, statues and a huge cross. And although the fort has disappeared, the mission was moved to another site in 1774. It has been rebuilt several times, and it's still there!
"Due to insufficient water supply and friction between the missionaries and the soldiery there, the friars moved the mission to this site in 1774," according to a sign posted at the current mission. It was moved some six miles further inland and closer to a native village and more fertile soil, where the friars could the teach the natives how to cultivate new crops.
The Great Hispanic American History Tour must go there soon. But first, the Junípero Serra museum is right here, in Presidio Park. It showcases San Diego's history from the indigenous Kumeyaay to the Spanish, Mexican and early American settlers. And that will be our next stop. Stay tuned.
To enlarge images, click on them!
Inscription on the cross: In this ancient Indian village of Cosoy, discovered and named San Miguel by Cabrillo in 1542. visited and christened San Diego de Alcalá by Vizcaino in 1602. Here the first citizen FRAY JUNIPERO SERRA planted civilization in California. Here he first raised the cross. Here began the first mission. Here founded the first town, San Diego, July 16, 1769. In memory of him and his works, the Order of Panama, 1915.
The views of San Diego from Presidio Park: