San Antonio’s Missions Enter Global Spotlight as World Heritage Site Nominee

Sara Gruber |
More than American history, more than the story of Texas, San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions symbolize a time when the world was expanding, cultures were intertwining and the global landscape would be forever changed. Having an intact, architectural representation of this story is a global treasure.
The Spanish colonial missions of San Antonio, Texas (to include the Alamo), are gaining global recognition as the United States nominates them for inclusion on the World Heritage List. Organized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Heritage List recognizes the most significant cultural and natural sites in the world. Included are Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt. If awarded, the missions would be the first World Heritage Site in the State of Texas and only the 22nd in the United States. That list includes Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and the Statue of Liberty National Monument.
History of the Missions
As the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in North America, Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) were built in the early 1700s to convert Native Americans to Christianity and help settle this region under the flag of Spain.
Studded along the spring-fed San Antonio River, each of the five missions is a day’s horseback ride (or three miles) from the next. They have flourished for decades, creating a unique culture that blended native traditions with newly adopted Spanish ways. In years since, they have seen epic battles and been under the rule of Mexico, the Republic of Texas and, finally, the United States.
These communities have built the foundation for and shaped the personality of San Antonio, now the nation’s seventh-largest city and an example of the changing face of America. This melting pot of Latino, European and Western cultures can trace its heritage to the collaboration of Spaniards and Native Americans across the Texas landscape.
The Mission Experience Today
As protected historic sites, the missions host millions of visitors each year. All, except the Alamo, are still active Catholic parishes that serve surrounding communities and, in some cases, the descendents of the original people served by the missions.
Whether a patron is interested in attending a mariachi mass, hiking from mission to mission or simply enjoying a self-guided tour, there are many ways to immerse oneself in the days and influences of colonial Spain.
On the River Walk
The missions are now linked by the newly expanded River Walk, a network of garden-bordered paths along the San Antonio River that connect much of the city’s history with hotels, restaurants, theaters and more. This offers patrons the opportunity to hike or bike from mission to mission as well as kayak certain sections of the river.
A Tour 300 Years in the Making
With their limestone facades and picturesque bell towers, the missions bring to life a bygone era. All are open to the public free of charge. Tours allow visitors to walk the grounds where lives were lived and lost. From living quarters to churches, centuries-old stories echo through these stone facades and their surroundings, including the Espada Aqueduct, still in use today.
Museum & Award-Winning Film
Mission San José, often referred to as the “Queen of the Missions,” provides an ideal starting point. Its museum exhibits artifacts that explain the diverse tasks found within the Spanish missions. An on-site theater shows the award-winning film, “Gente de Razón,” every half hour. It tells the story of the native people of 18th-century South Texas, their role in colonizing New Spain and the impact of the Spanish missions.
Reliving the Story of the Alamo
The famed Alamo offers its iconic shrine, Long Barracks Museum, audio tours, numerous historic buildings and gift shop. Living history demonstrations and battle reenactments also play vital roles in the educational offerings of the modern-day Alamo.
Economic Impact of Becoming a World Heritage Site
The decision to be rendered in 2015 could be a catalyst for socio-economic change. The greatest economic impact would come from increased visitation and tourist spending. Tourism is one of the nation’s largest economic generators, with $813 billion spent directly by domestic and international travelers that spurred an additional $1.1 trillion in other industries. Each U.S. household would pay $1,055 more in taxes without the tax revenue generated by the travel and tourism industry.
For San Antonio, the impact would be even more significant as tourism is one of the city’s top five industries, accounting for one in eight jobs and more than $12 billion annually. By 2025, the World Heritage Site economic impact on San Antonio and Bexar County is expected to generate $44-105 million in additional economic activity and 465-1,098 extra jobs. The five San Antonio Missions are expected to support $397 million in economic activity in 2025 regardless of World Heritage status.
San Antonio’s Support
As one of the nation’s most culturally rich and diverse destinations, San Antonio is dedicated to historic preservation. The city is a leader in the reuse and repurposing of its buildings, conservation of historic sites and preservation of architectural feats such as the missions. The care that San Antonio has invested into the missions, along with Bexar County, the State of Texas, San Antonio River Authority, Archdiocese of San Antonio and the National Park Service, distinguishes this community as one that invests in the generations to come.
Your Support
Visitors and history lovers are invited to sign the online nomination to support the San Antonio missions as an official World Heritage Site at
 To learn more about San Antonio’s historic missions or to plan a San Antonio getaway, visitors can log onto  
More than American history, more than the story of Texas, San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions symbolize a time when the world was expanding, cultures were intertwining and the global landscape would be forever changed. Having an intact, architectural representation of this story is a global treasure.