The bacteriophage P1 site-specific recombination system consists of two components, a site, loxP, at which recombination occurs, and a recombinase protein, Cre. In this paper, we present the DNA sequence of the cre structural gene and its upstream regulatory region. Analysis of the sequence indicates: (1) that cre encodes a protein of 343 amino acids; (2) that cre and loxP are separated by a 434 base-pair region that contains a 73 amino acid open reading frame, orf1; and (3) that cre and orf1 are oriented with their amino-terminal ends proximal to loxP. We have identified three promoters that are located upstream of the cre structural gene. Their activities range from 7 to 10% of the activity of the galactose operon promoter. The promoter furthest from cre, pR1, contains two Dam methylation sites (5'-G-A-T-C-3') in its -35 region, and is sensitive to Dam methylation. Its transcription is three- to fourfold higher in a dam- host than it is in a dam+ host. The promoter closest to cre, pR3, signals the production of an RNA transcript that functions inefficiently for Cre protein synthesis because it lacks a ribosome recognition site. None of the three cre promoters is sensitive to proteins expressed by the P1 prophage, including the c1 repressor protein. To assess the role of cre in the P1 life-cycle, we isolated cre mutants and studied their behavior in recA+ and recA- hosts. Those studies indicate that Cre is dispensable for viral vegetative growth and lysogeny in a recA+ host, but is required for both processes in a recA- host. The cre requirement for lysogeny suggests that the protein is essential for the cyclization of newly injected terminally redundant virion DNA. The requirement for vegetative growth suggests that Cre also has a role to play in the viral lytic cycle after the viral DNA has been cyclized.