Part 2 of our trip to Florida. Part 1 is HERE if you missed it.
Three hundred and thirty eight years ago in 1672, on the edge of the known world, a fort was being built by Spain to protect its empire in the Americas. Castillo de San Marcos was completed in 1695. Today it is one of the oldest masonry forts in America and sits on the bank of the Intercoastal Waterway. The base of the fort walls range from 14-19 feet thick, taper to 9 feet at the top and are 35 feet high.
We began with a walk around the outside. The walls are made of coquina stone; a locally-milled stone made of shells. This type of stone could absorb artillery fire without significant damage…and the walls are remarkably intact except for some of those canon ball dents. Places like this are larger than life to me. The way the stones are fitted together, without any modern equipment defies logic. Imaginations run amuck when thinking about how life must have been at the fort and St. Augustine almost 350 years ago.
When the British tried to take the area in 1702, St. Augustine residents took shelter inside the fort. With help from the Spanish fleet, the British were driven back to the Carolinas…but not before they burned St. Augustine. In 1739, the British again tried to take the fort but after 38 days of bombarding the coquina walls, they withdrew. The Spanish ceded Florida to the British in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris. Castillo de San Marcos became a British fort and was renamed Fort St. Mark. But, in second Treaty of Paris in 1783, the fort was given back to Spain and the original name reinstated.
The original Spanish coat of arms is under glass to preserve it from further weathering away. Its replacement is less authentic, made of fiberglass…but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. A sentry lookout (Garita) is located at each corner of the fort’s four three bastions. From each, a person can see 360 degrees around for miles. The strategy was, when approaching the fort, the enemy would be seen and caught in a deadly crossfire from two bastions.
The interior of the fort was mainly dark, dank rooms. The thought of spending much time in any of them made your skin crawl. The sleeping quarters reminded me of what the conditions must be like for our soldiers in Afghanistan...but better. The Spanish soldiers never lived inside the fort. They went back to their homes in St. Augustine after their shifts. The only soldiers having slumber parties were those on the night shift. However, the British took those sleeping quarters, made them into two floors and put in bunk beds so I imagine they stayed inside the fort for long periods of time.
Today the fort is a national monument and *soldiers* make up the living history of the area, walking around the 20 acre grounds in character and costume, reenacting parts of the fort’s history . There are canon firing demonstrations for the curious. Although not the red hot fiery canon balls of the 17th and 18th century, it is still very loud. There is something about bringing history to life that I find fascinating. I would never have cared one lick about this reading it in a history book. But, somehow, seeing it in person gives me an entirely different perspective.
One of the many details that cannot be effectively captured in history books is the detail of the canon decorations. Now a verde green, the original iron and bronze canons were cast with ornate royal markings of the period.
From the outside to the inside, the $6 entry fee to get in to see Castillo de San Marcos is a bargain. It’s a fascinating piece of world history.
What happened to the fort after the Spanish took it back? Control of Florida was given to the United States with The Adams-Onis Treaty in 1825 and the fort was renamed as Fort Marion. Under US control, it was turned into a prison for Native American Indians…not one of its more endearing attributes. In 1933, the US War Department transferred ownership to the National Park Service and in 1942, the original name was reinstated.
The fort was never defeated in battle during its military service, never was damaged in a hurricane and, to this day, stands as a tribute to 3 world cultures. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend seeing it!