Ponce (IPA [ponse]), officially the Autonomous Municipality of Ponce, is a municipality of Puerto Rico located in the Southern Coastal Plain region of the island, south of Adjuntas, Utuado and Jayuya; east of Peñuelas; and west of Juana Díaz. It has a total of 19 wards, including the historic Ponce Pueblo (the downtown area of the city).
Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico outside of the San Juan metropolitan area, is named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the grandson of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. It is located a few miles from the Caribbean coastline of the island. Ponce is often referred to as La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South) and La Ciudad Señorial de Puerto Rico (Majestic city of Puerto Rico).
Ponce, nicknamed Ciudad de los leones (City of the Lions) after Ponce de León, Ponce is also called "La Perla del Sur" (The Pearl of the South), has one of Puerto Rico's richest histories, dating back to the 17th century.
In 1692 Juan Ponce de León y Loayza (Juan Ponce de León's great-grandson) obtained a royal permit (cédula real) to formalize the founding of a hamlet around what was a small chapel at the time, raised and dedicated in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The hamlet was declared a villa in 1848, and obtained its city charter in 1877.
In 1937, Ponce was the scene of an incident dubbed the "Ponce Massacre" in which nineteen unarmed Nationalist protesters, peacefully celebrating the 64th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery, were fatally shot by police under orders from the United States', CoInterPro (Counter Intelligence Program) and non-democratically elected military assigned Governor of the time, Major General Blanton C. Winship.
The coat of arms of Ponce cotains a red and black coloured shield. There is a five tower gold crown that indicates that Ponce is a city by royal decree. As an exterior frame to shield, there is a sugar cane plant on the right of the shield, and to the left a coffee tree branch.
The shield of Ponce is divided by a diagonal line that crosses straight from the superior end to the left inferior end. In this divided field is the color red (for the fire that almost destroyed the city), that covers the superior right portion and the color black (for the ashes after that fire). On that black and red background is a yellow lion with black mane, walking towards the left of the shield, facing right of the shield. The lion is on a bridge, meaning that you must cross a river to enter the city by any region. The shield is bordered by a coffee plant branch and a sugar cane plant, in which the early economy of the city was based.
Ponce's tourist appeal has not gone unnoticed, since its peculiar architectural styles are unique to Puerto Rico. Many of the city's features (from house façades to street corners) are modeled on Barcelona's, given the city's strong Catalonian heritage.
Since the 1970s, and starting with the Ponce Holiday Inn, several hotels have been built to satisfy the tourism industry. Newer Hotels include Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort, home to the new Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club, featuring a 27-hole PGA championship golf course.
Some sites worth visiting are the Serralles Castle and the Cruceta El Vigia, a 100-foot observation tower which overlooks the city, as well as the street corners and 19th century domestic architecture in the blocks surrounding the central plaza. One popular legend is that scouts first used El Vigia to scan for attacking ships.
Ponce is the home of the Ponce Museum of Art, which was operated by Puerto Rico's former Governor Luis A. Ferré until his death at the age of 99. Designed by Edward Durrell Stone (Museum of Modern Art, NY), it is the only museum of international stature on the island, housing the most extensive art collection in the Caribbean. Its best-known painting is Flaming June, by Frederic Leighton.
Ponce is also home to the Serralles rum distillery (home of the Don Q and Captain Morgan, and Parrot Bay rums).
Other buildings around Ponce's main plaza include Casa Alcaldía (city hall), the oldest colonial building in the city, dating to the 1840s. Nearby sits Casa Armstrong-Poventud, an example of the neoclassical architectural heritage of the island.
Nearby is the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center discovered in 1975 after hurricane rains uncovered pottery. The center is the site of the oldest cemetery uncovered up to date in the Antilles. With some 200 skeletons unearthed from the year 300 it is considered the largest and the most important archaeological find in the West Indies.
Hacienda Buena Vista was built in 1833 originally devoted to growing fruits, converted into a coffee plantation and corn mill in 1845 and was in operation until 1937, and restored by Fideicomiso de Conservación de Puerto Rico. All the machinery works (the metal parts are original), operated by water channeled from the 360 m Vives waterfall; there is a hydraulic turbine which makes the corn mill work.
"La Guancha Paseo Tablado", the boardwalk, is a place where local Ponceños can usually be spotted. "La Guancha" also has kiosks which sell food and alcoholic beverages. A 45-minute boat ride is available to Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island), a small beach island that features an old lighthouse built in 1887.
Most of Ponce's professional teams are called the Ponce Lions (or Lionesses) regardless of the sport.
The teams of baseball and volleyball (male and female) have also been fairly successful. The baseball team venue is the Francisco Montaner Stadium. The stadium is located right next to the Juan Pachín Vicéns Auditorium.
In 2007 Ponce became host to Club Atletico River Plate Puerto Rico futbol team, which currently plays in the Puerto Rico Soccer League. They play at Francisco Montaner Stadium and are expected to play in the United Soccer Leagues, Division 1 in 2008. Becoming the second professional soccer team in Puerto Rico after the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Ponce was the site of the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1993.