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On Walkabout At: The Plaza de Espana, Guam

Basic Information

  • What: Plaza de Espana
  • Where: Hagatna, Guam
  • Founded: 1638
  • More Information: Guam-online.com

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

Narrative

As far as capital cities in the United States go the US Territory of Guam has to be about the smallest one.  The island’s capital is the city of Hagatna which though being established almost 400 years ago during Spanish rule, only has a population of just over 1,000 people.  With a capital this small most people would think it would be a pretty boring place, but it is quite the contrary.  Hagatna is actually known as being a center for fine dining, shopping, and historical sites.  The most famous historic site is the Plaza de Espana:

The plaza is located in the middle of Hagatna and on the way there this old Spanish San Antonio Bridge that crosses the Hagatna River can be seen:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

Another icon of Hagatna that can be seen on the way to the plaza is the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

The first basilica on this location was built by Spanish missionaries all the way back in 1669.  The building currently standing today was built in 1959 after much of Hagatna was destroyed during World War II. Considering this is a Catholic Church it makes sense that a large statue of Pope John Paul II has been erected near the church:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

From the basilica the Plaza de Espana is literally located right across the street:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

Ever since the Spanish began to colonize Guam in the 1600’s Hagatna became a center point for government like it is today. To put this into perspective, at the same time the Spanish were colonizing Guam they were also colonizing New Mexico where they founded Santa Fe in 1607.  It is truly amazing how vast the Spanish Empire was and how they were able to control it all those years ago without the modern technology we take for granted today.

To solidify their control on Guam the Spanish built the Governor’s Palace in 1736 in the plaza.  After the Spanish-American War in 1898 the United States took control of Guam and thus control of the government buildings in Hagatna.  When the Americans took over they added their own flavor to the plaza by building a baseball field which no longer exists today.  On December 10, 1941, just a few hours after the Pearl Harbor bombing the Japanese military invaded Guam and this plaza is where the final battle and ultimate surrender of Guam by the Governor, US Navy Captain George J. McMillin happened.  The surrender would lead to a brutal two and half year occupation of Guam by the Japanese which was administered from the Plaza de Espana.  The Chamorro “Insular Guardsmen” who fought with the US military on Guam against the Japanese are commemorated with this memorial in the plaza:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

The subsequent US military bombardment of Guam in July 1944 in preparation for the US military landing and ultimately liberation of Guam led to the destruction of much of Hagatna and the plaza. The Governor’s Palace for example is just a few old sidewalks and a foundation after for a time being the seat for three different governments: Spanish, American, and Japanese:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

The Spanish history of the plaza can still be felt today in the architecture that survived the war such as this beautiful three arched gate:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

Inside the three arch gate was this elaborate fountain that was repaired after the war:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

The few structures that remain today were rebuilt after the war such as this small building called the Chocolate House:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

The Chocolate House was a social meeting place where the Spanish would serve hot chocolate on late afternoons.  This custom was eventually replaced by the Americans who used to drink tea in this building.  There is another large building located in the plaza that houses a museum that was unfortunately closed when I visited:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

This old Spanish cannon added to the historic feel that the architecture brought to the plaza:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

After walking around the plaza I next walked across the street to the Latte Stone Park:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

Inside the park these two rows of latte stones, the cultural symbol of Guam can be seen:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

The latte stones were used as pillars on which ancient Chamorro houses were constructed as early as 500 A.D.  This type of building can be found no where else in the world other than the Marianas Islands.

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

According to Guam Online, the original Latte Stones were comprised of two pieces, a supporting column (halagi), made from coral limestone, and topped with a capstone (tasa), made from coral heads which were usually carried several miles from the quarry site or reef to the house. Customarily, bones of the ancient Chamorro’s and their possessions, such as jewelry or canoes were buried below the stones. Latte Stones are respected and are untouched. Human interlopers at latte sites may encounter Taotaomoa, or ancestral Chamorro spirits. Today, many Latte sites can be found in Northern Guam . Replicas and images of latte stones can also be seen all around the Marianas.  The eight latte stones on display in the park were transferred from their original location in Me’pu in Guam ‘s Southern interior.

Something else of interest in the park is the World War II Japanese bunker that visitors can walk inside of and checkout:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

It was a bit odd going from checking out Spanish architecture, then historic Chamorro latte stones, to then exploring a Japanese bunker, but this is the rich history that Guam has for good or bad been part of:

Picture from Hagatna, Guam

Conclusion

If visiting Guam it is well worth taking an hour to just walk around the Plaza de Espana and to appreciate the rich Spanish history of Guam.  To add to the cultural experience I also recommend walking across the street to see the Latte Stone Park.  There more of Guam’s rich cultural history can be experienced.  The best thing this is all free and can be done in an hour at minimum.  The best thing to do is check out the plaza in the morning when the temperatures are usually cooler and then walk around Hagatna to do some shopping followed by getting lunch at one of the town’s many fine restaurants.

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