The Alamo Mission played a role in U.S. history that lives on in films, songs, & museums. On your visit to San Antonio, use this guide to explore the Alamo
The south-central Texas city of San Antonio still retains much of the influence of its cultural heritage. Its most iconic landmark, attracting visitors year-round, is the Alamo — star of numerous Hollywood movies and the subject of multiple reincarnations. For visitors who want to learn more about the role this famous building played in the formation of the once independent country of Texas, the Alamo Mission in San Antonio is full of rich history and surrounded by a vibrant cultural scene.
Past Lives of the Alamo
At various points in time, this modest limestone shrine was home to the first recorded hospital in Texas, a post for the Confederate Army, and a Spanish mission, the first of five in the area, established in 1718.
It’s most well known for being the site of a bloody 13-day siege, for which the phrase “Remember the Alamo” was coined. The 1836 battle between Mexican and Texan forces set the stage for the state’s eventual independence from Mexico. However, Texan freedom came at the cost of more than 200 lives, including those of legendary defenders Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.
Origins and Evolutions
Originally named Misión San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo was built to house Catholic missionaries whose aim was to spread Christianity to the local natives. By the end of the 18th century, it had been secularized along with the area’s other four missions and used as a frontier outpost and military garrison.
It was soon renamed by Spanish officials who stationed a cavalry unit there. The new name, Alamo de Parras — locally referred to as simply the Alamo — means “cottonwood” in Spanish and was likely adopted as an homage to the Spaniards’ hometown.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain, the Alamo served as a garrison for Mexican soldiers until Texian forces took control during the Texas Revolution. On February 23, 1836, approximately 1,500 Mexican soldiers began a 13-day siege of the Alamo and the roughly 200 revolutionaries stationed there. The siege ended with a bloody battle on March 6. Although the Battle of the Alamo was lost, it lit a spark for retaliation in the Texians, resulting in the Battle of San Jacinto just six weeks later, which ended the war in favor of the revolutionaries.
Visiting the Alamo Today
Although the Alamo has been claimed at various points in time by the city of San Antonio, the Catholic Church, and the U.S. federal government, it’s now managed by the Texas General Land Office and has been officially designated as a Texas State Shrine. In 2015, the Alamo, along with the four other missions located in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Today the Alamo welcomes more than 2 million annual visitors. The 4.2-acre complex is open throughout the year, seven days a week, and admission is free of charge. Visitors are asked to observe certain rules of reverence while on the grounds out of respect for those who gave their lives.
Things to Do at the Alamo
There are several Alamo tours in San Antonio, and the site itself offers a range of tours and activities. Visitors can start by watching a 17-minute film covering 300 years of Alamo history. Free historical talks and living history demonstrations happen daily, while audio and guided tours are available for a fee.
Points of interest include the Long Barrack, a small museum showcasing paintings, weapons, and other artifacts, including David Bowie’s knife and a tuft of Davy Crockett’s hair in a glass locket.
Plans are underway for a world-class museum and visitors’ center that will showcase a $100-million collection of artifacts, including weapons, relics, and original documents, donated by British rock star Phil Collins, who amassed the collection over several decades.
Points of Interest Near the Alamo
Located on Alamo Plaza in the heart of downtown San Antonio, the Alamo is steps away from the River Walk, a city park and network of walkways. Winding along the banks of the San Antonio River, with easy access to urban and cultural hotspots, the River Walk is often called the American Venice.
Many major hotels and restaurants are also located within walking distance, including most notably the Hyatt Regency, where Phil Collins likes to stay for what he considers the best view of the Alamo, as well as 1718 Steakhouse and Landry’s Seafood House.
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