Spectacular is what best describes the colossal cross that sits on top of the hill called Cerro Vigía. Known as the Cruz del Vigía, the lookout always makes it to tourist itineraries. Find out why the Cruz del Vigía has become one of the most popular landmarks in all of Puerto Rico.
In 1801, the Spanish built Cruz del Vigía on a hill to watch for ships approaching Ponce, especially those of dangerous marauding pirates in the Caribbean. Arrival in Ponce always includes the sight of this massive cross that measures a hundred feet perched high on the hill crest. With a 30.5-meter width, the cross is really considered an observation tower.
A Tourist Center at the Cross Base
From here, you can see not only Ponce but also the point where the hill, referred to as El Vigía Hill, descends towards the coast and disappears beneath the sea. For a small fee, you will be whisked to the tower’s top via a glass elevator. Because of the location’s altitude, this elevator ride may be dizzying for those afraid of heights; the other option is to take the stairs.
Some may find the view from the hillside as good as that from the observation tower’s top, although this is actually a matter of preference. Located on the Serallés Museum’s grounds, the reinforced concrete cross itself houses a vertical tower of 10-storeys, horizontal sky bridge, and tourist center at the base. The cross has withstood numerous natural disasters including major hurricanes.
Honoring the Watchmen
Originally built with a hut that had flags to signal approaching ships that indicated their ports of origin, it was run by the Lugo brothers Alberto and Ricardo, who were honored in 1984 with a plaque placed at the cross base. The Lugo brothers are the descendants of the last Spanish conquistador of the New World, Alfonso Fernández de Lugo, who conquered the last of the Canary Islands.
The cross was built to honor watchmen who were the frontliners in the island’s defenses. Men like Luis Castro who, nearly two centuries ago, sat atop the hill’s then wooden cross to look out for ships to determine its nationality and legitimacy. If he didn’t raise a flag it meant the ship carried contraband or was a pirate ship; the Spanish military would then launch an investigation of the ship.
The Cruz del Vigía Today
Cruz del Vigía was a refugee camp for Ponce residents during a 1738 storm, a 1787 earthquake, a 1867 tsunami, and the invasion of U.S. troops in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Today, it serves as a tourist attraction that has a 2,223-square meter Japanese Zen garden with bonsais, rivers, bridges, and small lakes.
From the Cruz del Vigía, you can go to the Serallés Museum, erstwhile a “castle” residence owned by the Serallés family, producers of the Don Q rum, designed in the architectural style of the Spanish Revival by Pedro de Castro, with fountains, formal gardens, and well-manicured lawns with plants in patterns matching the house ironworks.