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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Castillo de San Marcos Fort/National Monument- St. Augustine, Florida

Entrance to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument/Fort

Keeping in theme with touring St. Augustines historic structures (starting with the lighthouse), I spent Sunday morning strolling through a sunny fort on a beautiful coastline.  Fifteen year old me would hate to be dragged around a decrepit looking building in Florida when there beaches were to be sunned on.  But, thirty year old me is all about the history, guided tours and educational pamphlets. Oh, how times have changed. 

When wandering, I love to dig into the history of where I am staying, attempts to extend my research a bit further than "best place to eat".   During my trip to Puerto Rico, I spent some time at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fort designed to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay dating back to the 1500's.  I have even toured the local historic Fort Trumbull right here in my own "backyard".  Wherever I am, these forts perched at the waters edge are often the perfect place for a history lesson and of course, a photo opportunity.  While visiting St. Augustine, we spent some time wandering through Florida's Castillo de San Marcos the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

About to cross the drawbridge and enter the fort

Run by the National Parks Service as a National Monument, everything is very organized, educational and well done.  I opted for the self-guided tour with the pamphlet and map provided at the entrance.  The signage was fantastic throughout and the rangers informative and engaging.  I was also able to watch the musket drills and firings (in full garb), as well as the cannon firing.   The view from the gun deck was fantastic (albeit a bit chilly).  Fun place to explore and learn about some of Florida's history and walk within the walls of a famous fort.  

The courtyard with volunteers dressed as soldiers 

Castillo de San Marcos is a large Spanish stone fortress built to protect and defend Spain's claims in the New World.   It's a National Monument and, at over 315 years old, it's the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. and the oldest structure in St. Augustine. 

View of the drawbridge rom the gun deck

The Castillo is run by the National Parks Service and the rangers and volunteers who operate this fort were fantastic.  At the Castillo you can tour the mansion at your own pace using this brochure for your self-guided tour, or join the ranger-led tours.  You can walk around the courtyard, gun deck, and rooms that once housed soldiers.   For a special treat, stay for the cannon firings and weaponry demonstrations, which are offered (weather and staffing permitting) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.  The rangers provided some great information about the fort, the weapons used, and operations of the fort.   While watching the demonstrations, he informed us that this gun deck and the surrounding city wall mounted over 70 cannons of varying size, the largest having a range of three and a half miles.

One of the cannons on the gun deck

Sort-of-candid with the cannons

Address:  1 South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL, 32084

Hours: Everyday from 8:45 am - 5:00 pm  - open every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Price/Tickets:  Tickets are valid for 7 consecutive days - Adults (16 years & older): $10.00
Children (15 & under): FREE if accompanied by an adult.

Tickets to the Castillo may be purchased at the ticket booth at the entrance (open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.) or online here

** Active military who present their military "CAC" Card are eligible for a free annual pass to all National Park Service areas which includes the Castillo de San Marcos. The card allows the military member and up to three other adult guests into the fort for free.

Looking out of one of the soldiers quarters

  • Construction began on the Castillo de San Marcos in 1672 and lasted 23 years, until 1695. Many Spanish forts preceded the Castillo, however, this one made of coquina was impenetrable to enemy attack and was fire resistant.
  • Coquina" (Spanish for "tiny shell"), is a soft limestone made up of broken shells and sand cemented together by calcium carbonate, essentially creating a natural form of concrete. The stone for the Castillo was quarried on nearby Anastasia island.
  • Because the stone is porous, it compresses under the impact of cannon fire rather than shattering, making the Castillo practically indestructible. 
  • The thickness of the outer walls varies from 14 to 19 feet thick at the base and tapers to 9 feet towards the top
  • Juan Ponce de Leon claimed "La Florida" for Spain in 1513.
  • The Castillo was built by the Spanish to protect their interests in La Florida. With the discovery and use of the Gulf Stream by the Spanish Treasure fleets it became important to establish a military outpost to keep rival powers and pirates from threatening Spanish commerce.

Figure depicting the Gulf Stream and the route back North

  • Though the fort has changed hands between countries many times, every transfer was negotiated through treaty and agreement, not battle
  • The fort came under fire for the first time in 1702. British forces, led by General Moore, burned the city but could not penetrate the Castillo's walls. Subsequent attacks in 1728 and 1740 yielded similar results, and the British were never able to take the city of St. Augustine by force.
  • In 1763 however, Florida became a British colony with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, thus beginning a 20-year period of English rule. The Castillo was used as a military prison during the Revolutionary War, and at one time it held three signers of the Declaration of Independence within its walls.
  • At the end of the Revolutionary War, Florida was returned to Spain in 1784 until Florida became a United States Territory in 1821. The Americans called the Castillo Fort Marion, honoring the revolutionary patriot from the Carolinas, General Frances Marion. 

Not a pizza oven- an oven for heating cannon balls
  • The U.S. Government used Fort Marion as a prison for Native Americans in the late 1800s. Natives from both Florida and the Great Plains were held at the fort during this time.
  • The fort was officially taken off the active list of fortifications in 1900 and it was preserved and recognized as a National Monument in 1924. 
  • Congress renamed the fort in 1942, reverting to the Spanish name, the Castillo de San Marcos.
  • At over 315 years old, the fort is a lasting landmark of seventeenth-century St. Augustine.

Entrance to the fort

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