Plaza of the Heritage of the Americas
Excerpts from a letter by Ben Shahn
The Plaza of the Heritage of the Americas consists of five sculptural groups in bronze — four lateral groups, each with its own fountain, and a central group in the main fountain. The lateral groups represent the four basic roots of American heritage.
1. Heritage of Faith (Herencia de Fe) - Two 8 1/2 ft. figures represent the conquest of the land in the name of Christianity. The liturgical ceremony of planting the cross in the New World is represented by two friars of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders.
2. Intellectual Heritage (Herencia Intelectual) - Two 8 1/2 ft. figures representing democratic liberty, and the flourishing in American soil of the liberal ideas of the European age of enlightenment. Specifically, it is symbolically represented by the figure of liberty guided by the people.
3. Heritage of Blood (Herencia de Sangre) - Two 8 1/2 ft. figures representing integration of the races in America. In more specific terms, it represents the first formal ceremony of integration on American soil when on June 15, 1508 Agüeybana, the main indian chief of Puerto Rico, gave his sister to Ponce de León and exchanged names with him in a ceremony known as “guaitiao”. An African youth, with the drum as his attribute, completes the representation of this ethnic trilogy of America.
4. Hispanic Heritage (Herencia Social) - Two 8 1/2 ft. figures representing the Iberian priestess (la Dama de Elche) offering her son to the New World. The jewelry of the Dama de Elche is of Phoenician origin, her features are in the archaic Greek style and her headdress is Iberian, thus representing in broad terms the Mediterranean and European heritage of America.From the four sides of the pedestals of these four groups water from four spouts will flow, forming the four rivers of American heritage which will, in turn, flow into the central pool.
5. Central group - Five maidens represent the five major arts or the universal values of mankind. This group will be placed on a pedestal enveloped in a continuous cascade of water. A vertical spout of water from the center of this group represents the ultimate unifying essence of humanity itself. On the rim of the central pool the following phrase will be placed in bronze letters (translation of a poem in Spanish by the author of the project).
“I will flow as four rivers into the heart of the world, nourishing your heritage with my faith, my intellect, my blood and my ancestral origin. I took these lands in the name of God Almighty to be consecrated to the concept that all men are created equal. At the shadow of the ancient Cuzco, Europe and Africa shed their blood, and from maternal Spain your traditions you have inherited. To you I bequeath the noblest of the Old and the New Worlds. The future looks upon you for the key to its destiny.”
The general concept of the Plaza was originally designed to be surrounded by a 1500 seat amphitheater and a computer controlled water, light and sound spectacle (see illustration below). Although all elements for this multimedia performance were fully developed, only the five sculptural groups were finished in bronze. They are, at present, located in the Paseo de la Princesa, in Old San Juan, next to the ancient city walls.
The team which originally developed the multimedia for the fountain were: José Buscaglia, sculptor and author of the conceptual design and libretto for the water, light and sound program; Carlos Lavandero, architect; Carlos Buigas, engineer and luminotechnician; musical score by Pablo Casals and Héctor Campos Parsi.