The Alamo (downtown on Alamo St. between E. Houston and E. Crockett, 210/225-1391, www.thealamo.org, 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Sun., free) is appropriately referred to as a shrine. Upon entering, visitors are asked to remove their hats and refrain from taking photos “out of respect for the shrine,” and it’s been referred to as the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”
If this word conjures up images of a mythical and sacred fortress drawing faithful devotees, then the Alamo certainly qualifies. Once visitors get past the site’s unexpected urban setting—apparently most textbooks include a rustic sketch of the Alamo in its frontier-era isolated state—they can appreciate its historical significance.
To get a true understanding of the Alamo’s role in Texas and U.S. history, be sure to devote 20 minutes to the compelling presentation offered continuously inside the main Alamo building. Without lecturing to or boring the assembled visitors, Alamo experts discuss the complex series of events leading to the famous battle. From the site’s original role as Mission San Antonio de Valero, established in 1718 to teach Catholicism and protect Spain’s colonial interests, to its subsequent incarnations as a hospital and cavalry post, the Alamo’s historic context begins to take shape.
A detailed and engaging explanation of the specific occurrences leading to the March 1836 Alamo siege make for gripping drama, from thousands of Mexican troops descending on San Antonio raising a red flag of “no quarter” (no mercy) to the few hundred Texans and Tejanos valiantly proclaiming to fight until death “in the cause of liberty and humanity” to the final, brutal early-morning hand-to-hand combat, the vivid presentation is an essential component of an Alamo visit. By the time it’s over, the walls seem even more sacred, and the already-buoyant sense of Texas pride becomes even more inflated.
The Alamo site was in pretty bad shape in 1905 when the Texas Legislature entrusted the care and maintenance of the grounds to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Since then, this nonprofit group has done an admirable job of retaining the site’s status as a cultural icon. In addition to the famous mission building, the Alamo grounds include the Long Barrack Museum featuring a small theater with a fascinating film about the Alamo and an impressive collection of historic artifacts (weapons, vernacular items, and models), a lush courtyard with a well dating to the mission era (1724–1793), an informative timeline displayed on large outdoor panels, and a jam-packed gift shop befitting of a worldwide tourist destination.
You’ll find the entire spectrum of visitors—from old women in head wraps to young boys in coonskin caps—making their pilgrimage to remember the Alamo.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition