Monday, November 22, 2010

Castillo de San Marcos

This fort is over 300 years old and has been under the flag of Spain twice, England once, and America also once. St. Augustine originally had a wooden fort, which was burned by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, and in 1668  pirates sacked St.Augustine hoping to attain the riches of Spain which were borne on the Spanish galleons sailing into the tiny colonial outpost.  This caused Queen Mariana of  Spain to order that a stone fort be built for the town. A locally quarried rock, coquina, was used. It proved impregnable, and the fort survived 15 battles and two sieges. Rather than crumbling under the battering of artillery shells the coquina walls "swallowed"  the cannon balls and little damage occurred to the structure over the years.
It was England who lay siege to the fort (the second attack was by General Oglethorpe in 1740). Florida was transferred to Britain in the treaty of Paris in 1763. Britain's stay was short, only 21 years. Florida was returned to Spain as part of the negotiations ending the America War for Independence in 1783. And in a treaty signed in 1821, Florida came into American hands. The fort has been a prison for three signers of the Declaration of Independence during the Revolutionary War, as well as for Native Indians during the late 1800s. A lot of our time at the fort was spent trying to absorb all that history! We also were fortunate to be there to watch the firing of one of the old cannons. The firing did not happen until the men in uniform followed a series of orders barked out in Spanish by their captain. It was interesting to observe!
 We also enjoyed wandering through the many rooms of the fort. There is a chapel with a stone altar and fonts on each side of it, built into the wall, for holy water. There is also a dungeon, as well as a vaulted chamber to protect the fort's gunpowder. Only two latrines are in the fort, hard to imagine how the many soldiers and towns people handled that during one of the sieges which lasted fifty days! Interestingly enough, no one lived in the fort when there was no danger of an attack. Soldiers lived in the town, they only came to the fort for guard duty, this was primarily true during the Spanish occupation of the fort.

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