Downtown San Salvador. Exploring the San Salvador Historic District

By Eddie Galdamez.  |  Jul 14th, 2022
San Salvador Historic District
San Salvador Historic District. Photo by @alcaldia_ss

The San Salvador Historic Downtown area has iconic buildings such as the National Palace, the National Theater, and the National Cathedral. It also has plazas with a great history dating back to colonial times, such as Gerard Barrios and Liberty Plaza.

The historic downtown San Salvador has well-known buildings, churches, and plazas that have played a significant role in the country’s cultural and political history; the area is the cultural and historical center of the country.

San Salvador Historic Downtown
San Salvador Historic Downtown.

Why Visit the Historic Downtown San Salvador?

The historic downtown San Salvador area is worth visiting because of its beautifully restored buildings, historic plazas, and iconic churches.

In this downtown area, you will be amazed by the majesty of the National Palace and National Theater. Also, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the El Rosario Church add to the area’s attractiveness.

Then, there are historic plazas such as General Gerardo Barrios, Plaza Libertad, and Plaza Morazan. These squares have been at the Center of historic Salvadoran and Central American events.

Lastly, visitors can also go shopping at the nearby local markets or enjoy the traditional Salvadoran foods in one of the many restaurants or cafes.

SEE ALSO: Top 15 things to do in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador

Is it Safe to Visit the San Salvador Downtown?

One of the main concerns for visitors to the San Salvador Historic Downtown is safety. Safety concerns have kept many local and foreign tourists away from the Historic District.

There is no way of getting around it; the San Salvador historic downtown has had a reputation of being dangerous. However, by 2201, the area is deemed safe to visit.

Salvadoran authorities have put a lot of time, money, and effort into making the Downtown San Salvador district a top tourist attraction.

Nowadays, venturing into the San Salvador downtown area is a normal thing to do for local and foreign tourists. Evidence of that is the many reviews found online of people who have visited it.

Historic Downtown San Salvador Notable Sites

The most notable sites to visit and explore at the San Salvador historic downtown are the National Palace, the National Theater, and the San Salvador Cathedral.

The El Rosario church, the Plaza Gerardo Barrios, Plaza Libertad, and Plaza Francisco Morazan are also worth exploring.

The Salvadoran National Palace

The Salvadoran National Palace 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 has a distinctive color that describes their use in the past.

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.

The architectural design of the building is impressive. The main facade of the building has six columns, a statue of Christopher Columbus, and a statue of Isabel the Catholic.

There are many other things to see and appreciate in this palace, besides the ones mentioned above. So, if you ever get to be in San Salvador, visit the National Palace; it is impressive!

San Salvador Historic Downtown
San Salvador National Palace. Photo by Franco Fuentes

The National Theater

The National Theater is another iconic building in the historic district worth visiting. It was built between 1911 and 1917 with a French Renaissance style.

Over the years, this building with a capacity of over 600 seats has been the scene of Italian operas, dramas, 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 for carrying out these activities, the Great Room, the Foyer, Lobby, the Conference Room, and the Small Room for minor art displays.

Visit The National Theater; it is an iconic building with incredible history and excellent architectural structure. Furthermore, you might be able to see a performance during your visit.

Historic Downtown San Salvador
National theater in San Salvador.

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.

The National Cathedral in the Historic Downtown district is the main church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of El Salvador; it honors the Divine Savior of the World or Divino Salvador del Mundo in Spanish.

The guiding priests of this church at the beginning 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 church was destroyed in 1873 by an earthquake, and the second in 1951 by a fire.

Thousands of people visit this cathedral every year. Some of the visitors 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.

Saint Oscar Romero was a priest who advocated for human rights in El Salvador. In 1980, he was assassinated while celebrating mass.

San Salvador Cathedral
San Salvador Cathedral. Photo by Edwin Ernesto

El Rosario Church

El Rosario church is the last church built in the downtown area of San Salvador; it sits on what was the original cathedral of El Salvador.

The church was constructed by priest and independence hero José Matías Delgado in the eighteenth century. The church was built out of wood and later destroyed by a fire.

In 1962, architect Ruben Martinez 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.

From the outside, El Rosario church looks more like an airplane hangar than a place of worship.

Also, 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, giving them a unique look and the stained glass windows give it 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.

Rosario Church El Salvador
El Rosario Church outside and inside.

Plaza Gerardo Barrios

Plaza Gerardo Barrios or Gerardo Barrios Square 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; it is surrounded by symbolic buildings such as the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Gerardo Barrios square 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.

Also, the March 1980 riots during the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero happened at this plaza. Saint Romero was murdered six days earlier during a mass by a sniper.

Most recently, the Gerardo Barrios Plaza bore witness to the celebration of the end of the civil war in 1992.

Lastly, in June 2019, the ceremony that transferred power to newly elected president Nayib Bukele happened here.

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 the capital city, San Salvador.

The city followed the guidelines of a Spanish city grid. This city grid system was commonly used in all cities at that time.

The Capital city grew around this space called Plaza Mayor de Armas, later it became Plaza Dueñas, and lastly, it became what is now known as Liberty Plaza.

Liberty Plaza is an ideal spot for visitors to learn more about the country’s history.

Liberty Plaza
Plaza Libertad or Liberty Square. Photo by Wiimedia

Plaza Francisco Morazan

Morazan Square or Plaza Francisco Morazan is 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.

Shopping at the San Salvador Historic Downtown

Shopping is another fun activity that can be done at the Historic San Salvador downtown.

All around the Downtown area, you will find small stores selling all kinds of products, including Salvadoran crafts.

Also, near the downtown area, you will find the Excuartel Market and the Metrocentro shopping mall, two excellent options for shopping.

The San Salvador Historic Downtown

In the downtown area, in addition to all the iconic buildings, churches, and plazas, visitors will be able to find plenty of other activities that involve shopping or local gastronomy.

Visit the San San Salvador historic district and see for yourself what this great area has to offer!