South Texas is a place of cultural contrasts and fascinating history. When exploring the state’s historic missions, visitors can feel the undeniable spirit of Texas independence inhabiting centuries-old sites and traditions.
Although Texas is known as the home of the famous Alamo, there are a number of beautiful Spanish-style missions dotting the state. Many of them are almost perfectly preserved and give a glimpse into the lives of the first people to call Texas their home.
In San Antonio, The Alamo is the most iconic mission, as the Battle of the Alamo is the most famous battle in Texas and a defining moment in American history. The 1836 siege paved the way for Texas independence from Mexico and Texas' eventual entry into the United States of America, representing a legacy of courage.
While the Alamo may be the most well-known, in the 18th century, Spanish priests established five additional Catholic missions: San Antonio de Valero, San José, Concepción, San Juan and Espada, all along the San Antonio River. The traditions established by the friars of these missions still influence the culture of San Antonio today, and the five missions represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. Each mission has its own unique history and attributes – the San José mission, for example, is dubbed ‘Queen of the Missions’ due to its large size.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization officially designated the San Antonio Missions as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO encourages the protection and preservation of cultural and national heritage around the world, and the selection as a World Heritage Site means the missions met demanding selection criteria. This exciting honor marks the first World Heritage Site in Texas and the 23rd in the United States.
Another South Texas city with missions to add to your must-see list is Laredo. The city is rich in historical significance, is where visitors can explore the Border Heritage Museum, San Agustín Plaza and the San Agustín Church in the streets of downtown. Do ghost stories give you a thrill? In addition to audio tours, Laredo's Republic of the Rio Grande Museum offers ghost walks for paranormal enthusiasts.
If you're looking for another historical marker, the charming town of Roma is known as the most historical city in South Texas. It’s historic district is a National Historic Landmark with more than 30 structures constructed before 1900. Visitors to Roma have the chance to see unique architecture that blends Mexican and European styles, and the town is distinctive for its historic, high-walled family compounds that reflect strong ties to 18th century northern Mexico.
An hour away from Roma, you'll find a pueblo founded by Mexican settlers in 1830. The tiny town of San Ygnacio is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers visitors a glimpse into the area’s history in the Zapata County Museum. The San Ygnacio Historic District includes Spanish and Mexican-influenced buildings that date from the earliest period of settlement to the late 19th century. The majority of the buildings in the town are masonry, constructed of sandstone and surfaced with stucco.
Another gem in South Texas is the town of McAllen. McAllen offers many cultural sites to take in, such as the historic Casa de Palmas hotel and the La Placita building, which was once a post office and now home to the McAllen Heritage Center. With memorabilia, photos, and local artwork on display, the center helps preserve McAllen's cultural and traditional treasures and articles of town history. Other iconic McAllen sites include the Museum of South Texas History and the beautiful Sacred Heart Church.
All these missions offer a remarkable glimpse into the history of the state as well as the cultures and traditions that still influence Texas today. From San Antonio down to McAllen, explore the rich and diverse history that has shaped Texas today.