The famous missions in San Antonio are among the city’s star attractions – especially the Alamo. They were originally built by Spanish colonists mostly around the mid-1700s, right on the frontier of the territory being claimed by Spain. Their primary purpose was to convert the local Native Americans to Catholicism, though they were also intended to deter French colonists from staking a claim to the land.

    Except for the Alamo, the historical missions of San Antonio are still active Catholic churches. Even without their religious and historical significance, the complexes are each well-preserved examples of the impressive Spanish Colonial architectural style and are worth a visit for their beauty alone.

    What are the famous missions of San Antonio?

    1

    Mission Alamo

    San Antonio’s central historic landmark

    The Alamo is known by various names, though its original one was Mission San Antonio de Valero. Established in 1718, the buildings you can see on the site today began construction in 1758. By the beginning of the 19th century, the complex had been abandoned and became commonly known as “the Alamo” – exactly why is open to debate. However, that name was burned into history in 1836 with the Battle of the Alamo. It also earned its additional nickname: the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

    Despite its important place in Texan history, Mission Alamo is a surprisingly modest place. Some of the buildings have been restored and repurposed as a museum, with the ‘Wall of History’ mural showing the various past and present uses of the complex. It’s worth noting that this is one of the most popular historic sites in the US, so it can get quite busy, especially at weekends.

    Location: 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm

    Phone: +1 210-225-1391

    Map
    2

    Mission Espada

    The oldest Spanish mission in Texas

    Mission Espada was founded in 1690, making it older than any other missions in Texas. However, it was relocated from its original site near Weches in 1731, taking its present full name of Mission San Francisco de la Espada in the process. The church itself was constructed in 1756 and, while it certainly shows its age on the outside, is still intact and operating on the inside.

    One of the more interesting features of Mission Espada is the system of acequias (community-managed irrigation channels) and aqueducts that carry water from the nearby San Antonio River to the mission and the surrounding farmland. These were constructed in 1745 and are still in use today. Look out for the loom that was used to weave wool from the sheep of the mission’s ranch, too. You can see it in action if you visit on a Tuesday afternoon.

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    Location: 10040 Espada Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 210-627-2064

    Map
    3

    Mission San Juan

    The economic heart of San Antonio missions

    Mission San Juan Capistrano was once a thriving economic hub and self-sustaining community, making it an important component of the San Antonio Missions. Its compound was the home and workplace of Native America artisans while the surrounding orchards, gardens and fields produced a bounty of fresh fruit and crops. What wasn’t consumed locally ended up being traded as far east as Louisiana and as far south as Coahuila in Mexico. Some of the farmland is still in use as part of a partnership with the San Antonio Food Bank.

    The buildings at Mission San Juan were constructed in 1756 after the mission was moved here along with others from eastern Texas to reinforce Spanish claims on the land. They underwent extensive renovation in 2012, giving the mission a slightly more modern look than many of its neighbours.

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    Location: 9101 Graf Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 210-534-0749

    Map
    4

    Mission San José

    San Antonio’s “Queen of the Missions”

    Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is known as the “Queen of the Missions” because of its impressive size and condition. Despite being over 300 years old, the beautiful buildings are in a surprisingly good state – partially thanks to extensive restoration work in the 1930s. Many of the buildings on the Texas Tech University campus in Lubbock have similar architectural elements to this mission. 

    The visitor centre for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located close to Mission San José, as is Ethel Wilson Harris House. Built in 1956, the house is nearly 200 years younger than the mission, but has its own historical and architectural significance, making it worth a visit while you’re in the area.

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    Location: 6701 San Jose Dr, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 210-932-1001

    Map
    5

    Mission Concepción

    America’s oldest unrestored stone church

    Mission Concepción has the rare honour of being the oldest unrestored stone church in the USA. While its colourful exterior frescos have long since faded and worn away, the stone structure remains unchanged from the day it was dedicated in 1755.

    Like most of its neighbours, the mission was relocated from eastern Texas in 1731, when it took its full name of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña. The buildings took about 15 years to construct. The fact that they have survived with relatively little repair work for so long is, at least partially, down to the fact that the complex was built directly on bedrock. Since the roof has never collapsed, the interior decorations in its 4 rooms, including the famous fresco on the ceiling of the library, still survive to this day.

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    Location: 807 Mission Rd, San Antonio, TX 78210, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 210-534-1540

    Map
    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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