The San Salvador Historic downtown is the cultural and historical center of the country. In this area, you will find iconic buildings such as the National Palace, the National theater, and the National Cathedral. Additionally, you will also find plazas with a great history going back to colonial times, such as Gerard Barrios and Liberty Plaza.
All the main buildings and plazas at the San Salvador historic downtown are part of the astonishing Salvadoran history. So, visit this area and learn about the countries history, and at the same time, witness the local culture.
Is the downtown area safe and why should I visit?
Yes, the downtown area is a safe and secure area to visit; there is security personal visible all over the place and at all hours of the day.
This area is a pleasant and clean touristic spot; here, locals and foreigners alike can spend time enjoying the countries culture and history until late at night.
This area has been extensively remodeled, it started in 2015 by Nayib Bukele, who at the time was the Mayor of San Salvador. Remodeling the downtown area was a top priority during his administration, and I can say for sure that he did a great job.
You should visit this area because of its history and to get a better understanding of Salvadoran history and culture.
These are the best things to see and do at San Salvador historic downtown.
The National Palace
The National Palace in downtown San Salvador is one of the most symbolic and majestic buildings in the country. This iconic building was declared a National Monument in 1980.
The National Palace was built with money collected by taxing every quintal of exported coffee; so, for that reason, it’s also called, The Coffee Palace.
The building has four main rooms and 101 secondary rooms; each of the four principal rooms have a distinctive color. Over its history, the main rooms were used by different branches of the government.
- The Red Room was used for receptions held by the Salvadoran Foreign Ministry, and the ceremonial presentation of ambassadors’ credentials.
- The Yellow Room was used as an office for the President of the Republic.
- The Pink Room housed the Supreme Court and later the Ministry of Defense.
- The Blue Room was the meeting place of the Legislature of the country.
Furthermore, on the main facade of the building, you will see six columns, as well as statues of Christopher Columbus and Isabel the Catholic.
There is plenty of other things to see and appreciate in this palace, besides the ones mentioned above. So, if you ever get to be in San Salvador, a visit to the National Palace should be included on your list.
The National Theater
The National Theater in downtown San Salvador is another iconic building that you should visit; it was built between 1911 and 1917 with a French Renaissance style. Furthermore, The National Theatre of San Salvador is one of the oldest in Central America.
Over the years, this building with a capacity of over 600 seats has been the scene of Italian operas, drama, scientific conferences, charity concerts, and major motion picture films.
Today, The National Theater provides services and space for art workshops, concerts, symphonies, music shows, dance productions, and much more.
The theater has five areas available for carrying out these activities, The Great Room, The Foyer, Lobby, Conference Room, and The Small Room for minor art displays.
Visit The National Theater; its an iconic building with a fantastic history and great architectural structure. Furthermore, you might be able to see a performance during your visit. Click here to see a schedule of events.
The National Cathedral
Another prominent building to visit in the downtown historic district is the National Cathedral of San Salvador or Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador in Spanish. This is the main church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of El Salvador.
The cathedral is dedicated to the Divine Savior of the World or Divino Salvador del Mundo in Spanish. In the beginning, the guiding priests were José Matías Delgado and Nicolas Aguilar; these two priests are historically known as heroes of the countries independence from Spain.
This Spanish colonial-style church was inaugurated in 1999 and is the third version of the cathedral. The first two cathedrals were destroyed; the first in 1873 by an earthquake and the second in 1951 by a fire.
Thousands of people visit this cathedral every year, some of them do it for religious reasons and others to appreciate the artwork and design.
This cathedral houses one of the countries most important pilgrimage sites, the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero. This is where the last remains of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero are buried.
Now, for those of you who don´t know about Archbishop Óscar Romero, he was a human rights advocate who in 1980 was assassinated while celebrating mass.
It is located on the north side of Plaza Barrios in the historic downtown area and is easy to reach.
El Rosario Church
El Rosario church is the last church built in the downtown area of San Salvador, and it sits on what it was the original cathedral of El Salvador.
The church was constructed by priest and independence hero José Matías Delgado in the eighteenth century; it was built out of wood that later was destroyed by a fire.
In 1962, Ruben Martinez, an excellent architect, was assigned the project of building the new church. Martinez built the church with a modern architectural design, rich with European influence and unique in Central America.
Visitors to El Rosario church get to appreciate the uniqueness of the design.
- El Rosario church from the outside looks more like an airplane hangar than a place of worship.
- The church has no pillars, so visitors have an unobstructed view of the altar and the colorful religious images.
- The inside’s concrete walls have no finish, given them a unique look.
- The stained glass windows give a colorful light to an otherwise dark interior.
This iconic church is best visited early in the morning or late in the afternoon; at those times, the stained glass windows give the church an even better look.
Plaza Gerardo Barrios
Plaza Gerardo Barrios or Gerardo Barrios Square is located in the downtown historic district of San Salvador. This plaza is dedicated to president Gerardo Barrios, one of the most recognizable military figures in the country.
The plaza is a landmark of the Salvadoran capital as it is surrounded by symbolic buildings such as the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Furthermore, it has been the scene of various historical moments, such as:
- The attack on President Manuel Araujo in 1913; the president was attacked with machetes and died about five days later.
- The riots during the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980 who was murdered six days earlier during a mass by a sniper.
- The celebration of the end of the civil war in 1992.
- And in June 2019, the ceremony transferring power to newly elected president Nayib Bukele.
Every year, the plaza is home to many different activities of public interest.
Plaza Libertad or Liberty Plaza
Plaza Libertad or Liberty Plaza is the starting point of San Salvador. The city was built around an empty space following the guidelines of a Spanish city grid; this system was commonly used in most new Latin American cities at that time.
The Capital city grew around this empty space called Plaza Mayor de Armas, later it became Plaza Dueñas, and lastly, it became what is now known as Liberty Plaza.
Liberty Plaza, with all its history, is an ideal spot for visitors to learn more about the country’s history.
Plaza Francisco Morazan
Morazan Square or Plaza Francisco Morazan is located in front of the National Theater in the downtown historic district.
The Square or Plaza is in honor of General Francisco Morazan, a Honduran National considered a great Central American hero; he fought for the idea of having a single Central American country.
In the middle of the plaza, you will find a bronze and marble monument dedicated to the legendary general; this monument immortalizes the military commitment of the leader.
The general’s figure is sitting on top of five other sculptures, each representing the five Central American countries that existed at the time.
In addition to all the iconic buildings, churches, and plazas, you will able to find plenty of other activities that involve shopping or local gastronomy. So, visit the San San Salvador historic downtown and see for yourself what this astonishing area has to offer!