There is little doubt that visiting the Alamo San Antonio Texas is a sombre yet inspiring experience. The restored ruins of this former Catholic mission now pay homage to the many lives lost in the battle of independence for Texas.
You don’t really need to ask for directions to the Alamo once you are in the lovely city of San Antonio. In the very heart of the city, the location of the Alamo even has it’s own plaza named after it. Street and road signs for miles around guide you to this historic tourist attraction. Since my Hampton Inn hotel was barely 5 minutes walk from the centre it was easy to find.
What to do before you visit The Alamo San Antonio Texas
The story of The Alamo is well documented and even covered in films by Hollywood. Yet as we know, no Hollywood adaptation is always true to the story.
For this reason it is recommended that before visiting this tourist attraction of San Antonio you should go to the Rivercenter Mall which is only a few yards away. The large cinema complex inside shows a very interesting 45 minutes film on The Alamo.
Opening times of The Alamo
The Alamo is open daily from 9am until 5:30pm.
How much does it cost to visit The Alamo?
As a preserved treasure and monument to Texan history it is free to visit The Alamo. I had to queue outside for around 10-15 minutes to get in when I visited on a Saturday lunchtime in October.
I paid $7 for an optional audio tour when I was there in 2014. You can take a guided tour for $15.
I found the audio wand a very useful and informative addition to the tour. A lot of the history in each part of the former mission site was explained in depth. This certainly helped me to appreciate the significance of where I was stood.
What is it like inside The Alamo?
When you visit The Alamo there are some strict rules in place.
This is now a shrine to the many lives lost here in the 13 day siege of 1836 so you are asked to show respect.
No photography is allowed. People should remove their hats or caps and voices should be kept to a low volume. You should not touch the display or walls.
Since I cannot take pictures inside I have to describe to you what it is like.
It is a not overly large main building with white walls. The roof has been restored and The Alamo is now fully covered. At the time of the battle of The Alamo (23rd February – 6th March 1836) there was no roof and it was a deserted ruin which had recently been captured by the Texans.
The long main building used to be the shrine part of the mission. The altar is no longer there however some impressive wooden doors, known as the Veramendi doors are now in its place. (These have an interesting history of their own even though they are not part of the original building.)
Around the doors are plagues which name all of the near 200 men who gave their lives defending The Alamo.
Across the middle of the room and in some of the other rooms are displays of various weaponry, mainly guns used in Texas throughout the 19th century. These date to before, during and after the battles in San Antonio.
I found this a little bit of a paradox and maybe too strong a statement towards the military history of this site. The Alamo is famous the world over for the Texan defeat to the Mexicans in 1836. However it was also a Catholic mission for many years before that. There seemed to be little tribute to the work of the church in this area, but more to military violence.
As I explored further we moved into the incorrectly titled Monks burial room. As far as researchers understand there are no monks buried here so it seems bizarre to give this room such a name.
Beside here was the Sacristy. Both the Monks burial room and the Sacristy are small, white walled, square shaped rooms. The Sacristy is where the women and children hid during the Mexican attack on The Alamo San Antonio Texas. Deemed as innocents, the people found holed up in this room were freed by the Mexicans after the siege. One survivor by the name of Susanna Dickinson, has been documented of her memories from the battle and the brutal deaths of many of the Texans. This is recalled in the audio guide as I was in this room.
The next point on the tour of The Alamo was just outside of the church. At this point it was okay to start taking pictures again (restrictions are only requested whilst inside the buildings).
From here I could appreciate the surroundings and the extensive gardens which now exist to the rear of The Alamo. Some kind of fete was going on so it was a popular spot.
Also at this point you could see the impressively styled Gift Shop. This was built for the 1936 centennial celebrations however to look at it you’d easily mistake it for being older. The gift shop is a way of raising funds for the up keep of The Alamo. Since there is no entrance fee some money has to be raised through donations or commercialisation.
Whilst it is undoubtedly a national treasure, The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas has been maintained since 1905 by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
Leading towards the Convento Courtyard (where we could see native American Indian children dancing to traditional music) stood various information boards. These provided a good historical narrative of the history of Spanish rule followed by Mexican then Texan independence. It also explains that the Mexican leader Santa Anna reneged on an agreement for more freedoms for the Texans which ultimately led to the war.
The tour then completes with the Long Barrack which was originally built in 1724. This makes it the oldest free standing building in San Antonio and is where the missionaries lived. Again no photos were allowed inside however there were more similar displays.
There is also an example of a mini hospital that was present here.
Why is it called The Alamo?
Originally this site was a mission which went by the name of Mision San Antonio de Valero. By 1793 the Spanish left the missions and the site was left to ruin.
Yet by the early 1800s a Spanish military unit was stationed there and they began referring to the site as Alamo. This is Spanish for “cottonwood” which was in reference to their hometown of Alamo de Parras, Coahuila.
The legacy of The Alamo San Antonio Texas
As a visitor of the 21st century I was fascinated by my visit to the site. This was my first trip to the beautiful San Antonio and this was always going to be my first stop on seeing the sights.
The fact that access is free is a wonderful legacy to the memory of those who died that fateful day. And indeed numerous others who died on other days when the site was fought over. Sadly these battles are not documented to the same extent as the battle of 1836.
Whilst most of the external original grounds have been lost to development, the Alamo Cenotaph at the front of the grounds is a respectful tribute.
It is also interesting to note that no buildings lay a shadow on The Alamo as a sign of respect.
The remains of the Texan soldiers who died at The Alamo are also now placed in honour. After the siege, their bodies were burnt by the Mexicans. Now those ashes have been placed in a tomb just inside the entrance of the beautiful San Fernando Cathedral at the main plaza of San Antonio.
There are many interesting downtown San Antonio attractions to see. However for me, the real appeal will always be this. For I will always “Remember The Alamo!”