The USA’s oldest masonry fort survived centuries of conflict among quarreling nations, settlers, Native Americans and pirates along the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Today, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument offers visitors a rare glimpse of Spain’s 17th-century empire in the New World. The military compound was constructed with more than 400,000 stone blocks, all crafted and set by hand.
“You’ve got to understand the size, the scale of this monument. It took 23 years to complete it, from 1672 to 1695,” said Michelle Reyna, owner of City Gate Productions in St. Augustine. She conducts guided tours of the fort wearing period costume. “It really is as though you’ve traveled into another country and another time.”
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is located in the heart of St. Augustine, the USA’s oldest permanent city of European origin.
Built to protect a Spanish garrison, the fort was later staffed by British and U.S. troops. Soldiers stockpiled ammunition, weapons and foodstuffs like beans, rice, flour and corn inside. A moat surrounded the exterior.
The fortress features a chapel, guard rooms, a central plaza, three drinking-water wells and a shot furnace used to heat cannonballs red-hot for firing at enemy wooden ships. There are cannon-firing demonstrations Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “Always six men to a crew, because that’s the way the Spanish artillery soldiers did it,” Reyna said.
Florida officials are commemorating the Sunshine State’s 500th anniversary throughout the year. Explorer Juan Ponce de León first sighted the shoreline in 1513, naming the territory “La Florida” and claiming it for the Spanish crown.
Neale also reports for Florida Today in Melbourne.
About the monument
Size: 20.48 acres
Visitors: 727,243 in 2012
History: Construction of the fort began Oct. 2, 1672. President Coolidge created Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in 1924.
When visiting: Off State Road A1A in downtown St. Augustine at 1 S. Castillo Drive.
Visitor information: (904) 829-6506. Operating hours: The fort is open from 8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Park grounds are open from 5:30 a.m. to midnight.
Of note: The fort was built of coquina limestone, a sedimentary rock composed of tiny seashell fragments.