North America’s Largest Collection Of Spanish Colonial Architecture Is Deep In The Heart Of Texas

The Historic Old West Spanish Mission San Jose, Founded in 1720, San Antonio, Texas, USA.

By Bill Dante
Historian and Voice Of The Alamo

Did you know that San Antonio is home to the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Texas? If you haven’t heard, the San Antonio Spanish Missions, all five of them, were named as one World Heritage site as part of the UNESCO organization. Try remembering what UNESCO stands for and impress your friends.  Here goes: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. There are 1,192 sites recognized by UNESCO in the entire world. If a site is selected it’s because, in their words, “It’s an outstanding value to humanity!”

Canada has twenty-two sites and one of those is the entire historic district of the city of Quebec.  Mexico has thirty-five, and I’m sure the pyramids like Chiche’n Itz’a come to mind. The city of Oaxaca, built in 1642 by the Spanish is also a designated site. In order to be a site it can be a city, or for example, the Eiffel Tower, the Redwood Forest in California, Yellowstone (not the TV series), Grand Canyon National Park and so many more fabulous places.


Out of the 1,192 sites, the top five are

  1. Angor Wat in Cambodia
  2. Great Wall of China
  3. Michu Picchu in Peru
  4. Great Barrier Reef in Australia
  5. Petra in Jordon (also one of the Seven Wonders of the World)


How many are there in the United States? Twenty-five… and that’s because the United States is so young compared to the rest of the world. Out of the twenty-five in the United States, Texas has only ONE.

It’s the five historic Spanish Missions, which includes The Alamo. I didn’t appreciate just how special this designation was for the Missions to be recognized and designated a site by UNESCO.


The Spanish missionaries arrived in this area in the 1700s.

The object was to build numerous missions along the San Antonio River, stretching about seven miles in total distance from number one to the fifth mission. Thus colonizing the area north of Mexico and also to build a defense on their northern frontier. In addition, the missionaries introduced a new religion to the indigenous residents of the area. When you visit the Missions you will see some Spanish religious symbols mixed with the natives religious symbols. This helped and allowed both to intertwine their cultures. A new language, organized farming and even building the missions with new homes helped add a defense perimeter for their families. Each mission was exactly the same distance from each other, about three miles. A days walk. But one of the outstanding things that the missionaries taught was the building of the acequias, the Roman aqueduct concept, allowing water to flow continuously to each mission. This allowed the farming area to expand to over 3,000 acres. There is only one aqueduct left after hundreds of years and it can be seen near Mission Espada.



San Antonio Valero (The Alamo) was built in 1718. The original location was near San Pedro Creek, but because of flooding and other problems it was moved to the present location and remained an active mission until the year 1803. At that time the Spanish calvary came into the area and changed the mission into a military fort. In addition, the name was changed to The Alamo. In 1821 Spain gave Mexico its independence then shortly afterwards a civil war erupted in the area. That lead to Santa Anna coming to the area with thousands of troops in the winter of 1836….”Remember The Alamo.”

Within a decade Texas became a state.



The next mission, in the year of our Lord 1731, Concepcion was built  three miles south of the Alamo with only 300 indigenous people entering the grounds and living quarters.

This mission is well worth a visit because it is considered the best well preserved Spanish colonial structure in the United States including California.

Look for the brightly painted frescos which are still faintly visible.

You will be greeted by knowledgeable and friendly park Rangers. A free tour happens daily and starts at 10:00am til 11:00am.

Plus in the summer it is a little cooler in the morning for a tour. In 1988 there was major restoration showing extensive art on the walls.



Known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Originally built around 1731 but the church was not started until 1768. It was almost fully restored to its original design in the 1930s and is considered to be the most complete of the five missions. A significant portion of the original church remains intact and represents a fabulous example of Spanish Baroque architecture in Mexico during the 1760s. The ornate façade is one of the significant examples of carved mission stonework.

Don’t miss the famous Rose Window on the south side of the sacristy.

If you have time, watch the short film available in the visitor center.

Also, there is a bilingual mariachi mass on Sunday at 12:30pm.

I wanted to mentioned that some of today’s parishioners are direct decedents of the original 250 residents of the mission.



It was founded in east Texas in 1716 but was moved to San Antonio in 1731 by the the Franciscan monks.

It was named after the 15th century warrior monk who lived in Italy and was famous throughout Europe.

This is a peaceful area. The Yanaguana trail is paved along the San Antonio River and will give you a true feel of what it was like 300 years ago. Look for the San Juan acequia that has been restored and used for the demonstration farm.

There is also great gift shop to pick out a memorable souvenir.



This was the first mission built in Texas in 1690 as San Francisco de Los Tejas . It was also transferred from the Weches area to the San Antonio   River banks in 1731. The new church was completed in 1756.

Notice that the mission more resembles a true quant Spanish village with Spanish culture. This made it easier for the natives to assimilate. There was a working village with a blacksmith, carpenters and other craftsmen that actually produced a lot of objects for the other missions. While there, you can watch the working loom in the contact station, but only on Monday afternoons.

Enjoy your visit to the only UNESCO site in Texas!

Take the time to see how close you live to the other 25 UNESCO sites in the United States and add another one to your bucket list.