For lovers of California history and religious landmarks, San Diego’s Mission Basilica de Alcala is a place that has to be a staple when touring the city. Built in 1769 above old town, the Basilica is the first link of what will eventually become 21 chains of Spanish missions founded in California by Franciscan friar Junipero Serra. This first mission and the areas surrounding it were long inhabited by Kumeyaay Indians. The Spanish then named it after the Catholic Saint Didacus more commonly known as San Diego. Thus the Basilica marks one of the first landmarks associated with San Diego tying it from then on to the city’s rich history.
From its original location in Old Town, the Mission was moved to its present site in Mission Valley where it was sacked by the local tribe the year after it was built. This prompted Serra to use thick adobe walls and clay tile roofs in the reconstruction so that it will be harder to set ablaze, a move that has inspired 20th Century California architects.
The rich history includes its role as the site of many firsts in California history such as the first Christian burial and the first public execution in 1778. Also, California’s first Christian martyr, Father Luis Jayme is laid down to rest beneath the chancel floor. All these important connection to the history of San Diego and California in general have made Mission Basilica de Alcala a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the Basilica houses a museum as well as a gift shop where tourists can get their souvenirs. These are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and can be easily reached via bus or trolley. Catholic masses are also said daily.