With neither the modern skyline of an oil town, nor the tumbleweed-strewn landscape of the Wild West, attractive and festive SAN ANTONIO looks nothing like the stereotypical image of Texas - despite being pivotal in the state's history. Standing at a geographical crossroads, it encapsulates the complex social and ethnic mixes of all Texas. Although the Germans, among others, have made a strong contribution to its architecture, cuisine and music, today's San Antonio is predominantly Hispanic : abundant Tex-Mex restaurants, the prevalent Catholicism, the newly expanded Mexican Cultural Institute and advertising billboards in Spanish all attest to a long history of "Texican" culture.
Founded in 1691 by Spanish missionaries, San Antonio became a military garrison in 1718, and was settled by the Anglos in the 1720s and 1730s under Austin's colonization program. It is most famous for the legendary Battle of the Alamo in 1836, when the Mexican General Santa Anna, seeking to curb the aspirations of the Anglo-Americans, wiped out a band of Texan volunteers: hence San Antonio's claim to be the "birthplace of the revolution," borne out by its role during Texas's ten subsequent years of independence. After the Civil War, it became a hard-drinking, hard-fighting "sin city," at the heart of the Texas cattle and oil empires. Drastic floods in the 1920s wiped out much of the downtown area, but the sensitive WPA program which revitalized two of the city's prettiest sites, La Villita and the River Walk , laid the foundations for its future as a major tourist destination. San Antonio is now the eighth largest city in the US, but it retains an unhurried, organic feel, thanks to a winning combination of small town warmth, respect for diversity and a self-confidence rooted in its own history.
Since mission times, the San Antonio River has been the key to the city's fortunes. Destructive floods in the 1920s, and subsequent oil drilling, reduced its flow, leading to plans to pave the river over. Instead, a careful landscaping scheme,...
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