Fort Castillo de San Marco is the oldest existing masonry fort in America. It’s construction began in 1672 by order of Spain. The historical landmark has gone through several name changes throughout the centuries. In 1924 by an Act of Congress, the fort regained its original namesake.
This particular trip takes me to the oldest city in America. Florida’s northeastern coast cradles the historic city of St Augustine. The city was Established in 1565 by a Spanish admiral who eventually became Florida’s first Governor. When I first approached the outer perimeters of the fort, its weathered conquina (Spanish for “small shells“) rock walls stood vigilant between its occupants and the deep blue Atlantic Ocean.
The row of cannons that line the seawall gave me a pretty fair assessment on how heavy these iron forged projectile slinging weapons really weigh. Can you imagine repositioning one of these two ton monsters on the shore’s sandy surface? After taking in the sites of the ocean and the fort’s uninviting stone cold walls, I began to make my way towards the entrance. The first of two drawbridges that hung over the moat directed me to the fort’s only way in from the outside.
The bridges allow access over the moat, which in peaceful times was a grazing area for farm animals. But while under siege the carved out channel was filled with seawater that deterred attacking soldiers from scaling the rigid walls.
I made my way inside the fort. The courtyard or La Plaza de Armas was in clear view. Many of the rooms surrounding the grass and brick border where used to store supplies and weapons. They were also rooms that housed the guards and soldiers on duty, as well as a chapel.
At certain times of the day there will be people dressed in appropriate character for the times. There are also narrated history presentations under the courtyard’s tent (pictured, above). Check with the ticket booth on times and days.
Some of the rooms are shadowed with light coming from a single 2 x 4 window or an external door. The solid masonry walls hold in both the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. When the fort was first built each room had a second floor. When Britain took over, the rooms became one floor. When I entered the room(s) they felt very confining and dungeon like. Most of the rooms had little to no natural light. This tells me that their occupants lived by candle light most of the time.
I ventured up the stairs to the roof. This is where all the action happens when being attacked by an invading army or a fleet of naval vessels hurling 4 to 24 pound cannonballs at you. The more developed countries had cannonballs that weighed up to 42 lbs. These rounded iron slugs didn’t have the accuracy of todays guided projectiles, but when they hit their target they made quite a dent. Notice the various cannons (pictured, left) with their different sizes and barrel lengths. The stubby barrels shot larger cannon balls shorter distances. The longer cylinder cannons were more for distance and accuracy.
If the attacks occurred during the heat of the day, it would make conditions more difficult for the ground soldiers who had little to no cover. The fort was designed and built with diamond shaped corners called Bastions (pictured, right). With the moat flooded and the adjacent Bastions cross firing their cannons, the line of defense would be very hard to penetrate by the opposing attackers. I stood at each corner point of the fort’s Bastions and looked out at the horizon. There isn’t much you wouldn’t be able to see from the fort’s observation towers on the Bastions point. Especially any approaching ships.
The design of Castillo de San Marco has defiantly proven its worthiness. It is still standing mostly in its original state and is an historical landmark on American soil. Our ancestors never cease to amaze me with what they had to work with and their unnerving perseverance against such odds. That is what America was built on.