In 1691, Spanish explorers came to the location, which was then a Payaya Indian camp. San Antonio was founded on May 1, 1718, when the Mission San Antonio de Valero was constructed by a Spanish expedition from Mexico. The Alamo (Spanish: “Cottonwood”) was one of five missions established in the area and was named for St. Anthony of Padua. San Antonio de Béxar, a presidio (military garrison) was founded nearby on May 5. The spot, located on the river’s west bank, served as a rest stop for travelers traveling between the Rio Grande and East Texas missions.
San Fernando de Béxar was founded in 1731 by Canary Island settlers near the presidio, where a civilian community had been envisioned when the presidio and mission were built. Raids by Apache and Comanche tribes plagued the colony in its early years. In 1793, the mission was secularized and turned into a military garrison. From 1773 to 1824, San Fernando de Béxar served as the province capital, but its political power faded after that. It was renamed San Antonio in 1837, when it became a county seat of the Republic of Texas.
San Antonio, along with Goliad and Nacogdoches, was one of three established Spanish settlements in Texas at the time of Mexican independence in 1821. Stephen Austin arrived in the city—then the seat of the Spanish government in Texas—in the summer of that year to carry out his father’s permit for the admission of 300 American families to the territory. Texan forces occupied the Alamo in December 1835, at the start of the Texas Revolution. They stayed there until March 1836, when Mexican troops led by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna murdered them after a 13-day siege. With Texas’s independence in April, the presidio was decommissioned.
With 2,500 residents in 1836, San Antonio was still the most populous city in Texas. Following independence, it flourished swiftly, owing to a massive influx of German immigrants. San Antonio, as the beginning point for the Chisholm Trail, grew into a significant cattle center in the later decades of the nineteenth century, where herds were gathered for overland drives to Kansas railheads.
The city swiftly established itself as the Southwest’s commercial center. The first train arrived in 1877, bringing migrants from the American South, while Mexican immigrants arrived after the Mexican Revolution began in 1910. During World Wars I and II, San Antonio was a major military center, which continued to dominate the city’s economy in succeeding decades. To mark the city’s 250th anniversary and to celebrate its cultural ties with Latin America, a world’s fair known as HemisFair was hosted there in 1968. Henry Cisneros, the city’s first Hispanic mayor since the mid-nineteenth century, was elected in 1981 and served until 1989. Ed Garza, the city’s second modern-era Hispanic mayor, was elected in 2001 and served until 2005.
San Antonio’s personality is a vibrant mix of Mexican and Texan culture. It’s 150 miles (240 kilometers) from the Mexican border at Laredo, on one of Mexico’s busiest highways. About three-fifths of the population is Hispanic (mostly Mexican), and many are Spanish-speaking or bilingual. It retains a lot of its historical aura while also celebrating its ethnic diversity. The city is littered with the ruins of 18th-century Spanish structures, which are juxtaposed with modern office buildings.
San Antonio’s rapid growth after 1940 is partly due to military installations. Inside the city, Fort Sam Houston (1879) houses the headquarters of the United States Fifth Army, as well as a national cemetery and the Academy of Health Sciences, the army’s basic medical school. Three US Air Force bases are close by: Lackland, Randolph, and Brooks. Lackland, in the city’s southern outskirts, serves as a recruit training base. The Air Education and Training Command is headquartered in Randolph, a suburb to the northeast. The School of Aerospace Medicine is located in Brooks, in the city’s southeast corner. Kelly (founded 1917) was the region’s first aviation base, and its property was rebuilt for business usage in 2001.
Education, health care and medical research, business and financial services, and, most crucially, tourism are all vital parts of San Antonio’s economy. Aerospace equipment, textiles, semiconductors, industrial machinery, and shoes are among the products manufactured, as are oil refineries. Cattle, poultry, peanuts (groundnuts), sorghum, vegetables, and greenhouse plants are among the agricultural items produced in the area; processing and research on agricultural products are also important. The interstate highway system in the San Antonio area handles a substantial percentage of trade between Mexico and the United States. There is also an international airport in the city.
San Antonio’s River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is the city’s outdoor focal point. Its beautiful banks are dotted with stores and restaurants as it winds through the downtown area. The Spanish missions Nuestra Seora de la Concepción de Acua, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, San Juan Capistrano, and San Francisco de la Espada are all preserved in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which was founded in 1978. The park, which has a total area of roughly 1.3 square miles (3.3 square kilometers), is located along the Mission Trail, which runs from the Alamo to the San Antonio River and is 9 miles (14 kilometers) long. The residence of José Antonio Navarro, a Mexican statesman who backed Texas’ independence, is preserved at Casa Navarro State Historic Site (about 1848). The iconic Alamo (now a state historic site), the restored Spanish Governor’s Palace (1749), and La Villita are among the other historic landmarks (a section of reconstructed Spanish settlement).
In 2015, the Alamo, the four missions inside the national historic park, and the Rancho de las Cabras in Floresville (also within the national historic park) were all named UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mission San José and San Miguel de Aguayo, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
HemisFair Park, the site of the world’s fair, is linked to the central city by the River Walk and is used for conventions and exhibitions; the park’s Institute of Texan Cultures traces nationalities of Texas, and its Tower of the Americas, 750 feet (229 meters) tall, is a city landmark. The Roman Catholic archbishopric of San Fernando is housed in San Fernando Cathedral, which was completed in 1873. The Witte Museum houses Texas antiques, while the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum has a renowned collection of modern French works.
The San Antonio Museum of Art has a Latin American art collection, and the Museo Alameda, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, is dedicated to Latin American culture. In addition, the city has numerous music, dance, and theatrical organizations, as well as a professional symphony orchestra. SeaWorld San Antonio has amusement rides, animal shows, and marine animal displays. The Alamodome, which opened in 1993, hosts conventions, concerts, and athletic events. The city’s professional basketball franchise, the Spurs, was one of the most successful NBA teams in the twenty-first century. The San Antonio Zoo, which includes an aquarium, is a popular tourist destination in San Antonio. In February, there’s a rodeo, then Fiesta San Antonio in April, and the Texas Folklife Festival in May. (June).