A month or so ago I finally visited the famous Mission San Diego de Alcala. I’ve lived in San Diego for many years, and have driven past this important historical landmark many times, but I’d never stepped inside. Writing this blog compels me to check out cool new sights!
Built in 1774 by the Franciscan priest Junipero Serra, the building you see was the first of 21 Spanish missions in California. It was constructed several miles inland of the Pacific Ocean near the San Diego River. (The very first mission was actually built in 1769 at the old Presidio, but later relocated to this more fertile location.)
In 1775, just one year after it was built, the mission was burned to the ground by native Indians. Father Junipero Serra returned the next year to rebuild the church and mission buildings.
Over the years the San Diego Mission became very prosperous, with vineyards, orchards and thousands of cattle in its possession. Hundreds of baptized Native American Kumeyaay, whom the friars named Dieguenos, did most of the work.
History is rich here. The mission was claimed by Mexico in 1821, then used by the United States Cavalry after the US-Mexican War. Today its unique facade is one of the most iconic sights in San Diego. Unfortunately, it’s a slightly out-of-the-way place that relatively few tourists visit.
In case you can’t stop by, I took a few photos!
These bells on posts mark the primitive road, the King’s Highway, that connected the Spanish missions in California.
You might have read about the La Playa Trail in Two Years Before the Mast. Richard Henry Dana, Jr. rode horseback down it with his friend to enjoy meals at the old mission. The west end, La Playa, located just inside San Diego Bay, is the place where Dana worked for several months in 1835 drying cattle hides.
The historic church has remained active for many centuries.
Small statues of saints in the small nooks along the wall represent the nine missions that Father Junipero Serra founded.
Now we’re inside one of the various mission buildings. The self-guided tour proceeds clockwise around the central square.
The church inside is beautiful and invites reflection.
Many birds were about and almost no weekend visitors.
This and the following photo were taken in a space between the garden and a small one-room museum.
This small chapel can be found at one corner of the central square.
The local Kumeyaay provided the labor that enriched the mission. This hut near an excavation site is an example of where they lived while the friars enjoyed greater comforts.
In San Diego, those who hunger for colorful sights and local history should remember to swing by California’s very first Spanish mission in–you guessed it–Mission Valley!