Castillo de San Marcos
Summertime travels recently brought me to St. Augustine, Florida and the oldest masonry fort in the United States. Established at its completion in 1695 to defend Spanish territory after Sir Francis Drake attacked and burned St. Augustine in 1586, the fort served under six flags. Its first test came after the British occupied St. Augustine in 1702. Filled with 1,200 of the city’s residents and 300 soldiers the masonry fort withstood 50 days of siege at the hands of English soldiers. The city of St. Augustine, however, was torched and burned to the ground. In 1763, Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain as a result of the Seven Years’ War. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 returned Florida to Spain. Yet another agreement, the Adams-Onis Treaty handed Florida over the the United States where it remained until Florida seceded from the Union in 1861. After the Civil War, the Castillo de San Marcos once again returned to the United States upon capture by Union forces in 1862. Today the fort is owned by the National Park Service and as such has become a historic attraction.
Entrance to the fort is by way of the Sally Port over a drawbridge that spans the fort’s moat.
The potcullis is a heavy sliding door, the only entrance and exit to the fort. Note the coquina fort walls, 14-19 feet thick at the base and 9 feet wide at the top. Coquina, a sedimentary rock formed of seashells and coral, formed an excellent barrier to incoming cannon balls which simply sunk into the soft limestone walls.
Once inside the fort, you see a large central courtyard surrounded on all sides by vaulted rooms or casements.
Many of the rooms are open for inspection. Included are rooms for supplies, a chapel, the powder magazine where munitions were stored, and school rooms used for Native American prisoners of war.
A stairway leads to the gun deck.
Once on the gun deck visitors enjoy a view of Matanzas Bay. Four bastions at the corners provided a protected lookout and signaling window for the lighthouse and ships at sea.
Cannons mounted near the parapet walls, or embrasures, show how the fort was protected. In 1740, this gundeck held 74 cannons.
Should your travels in the Southeastern United States take you to St. Agustine, the oldest European settlement in our nation, be sure to visiot the Castillo de San Marcos. It is a trip through history that you won’t forget.