I've visited a lot of fortifications in my years of travel, and approached Castillo de San Marcos with low expectations. I left very pleased that we had taken time to visit this historic site, one of the oldest structures in the USA, and one of the more unique and "photogenic" of the forts I've visited.
Early Spanish settlers lived in fear of attacks from pirates, Indians, and the British, as if their isolated existence wasn't difficult enough already. Wooden forts failed to hold off invaders so Spain's Regent Queen Mariana order the construction of a stone fort, begun in 1672 and finished in 1695. The fort was built of a locally quarried shellrock called coquina which does not crumble under cannon fire. Looking closely at the large blocks of stone, one can see the millions of tiny little pieces of shell.
This fort was not conquered by attack or siege, but did change hands when the British defeated the Spanish in the Seven Years War, and was used as a prisoner of war camp for captured Americans during the Revolutionary War. In subsequent years, Spain regained control of Florida and the fort, until the USA took over again in 1821.
Note - pets not allowed within the fort itself, whether on leash or not. We noticed several disappointed folks who tried to take their doggy pals with them only to be turned away.
This was a transitional fort that was built first in 1672 by Spaniards to protect the area. It got completed for the first phase in 1695. The British continued to try and take over the territory and the fort with strong coquina shell base held fast. It was attacked in 1586 and the town burned, and again by pirates in 1668. By 1821 the US took control of Florida and this area. During the Civil War it was part of the South until the Union got an foothold in the area and took over the area. It was then called Fort Marion but later changed to Castillo de San Marcos to commemorate the Spanish who built it. The fort eventually had two moats, a draw bridge, and more bastions to protect the town, which had a wall surrounding the main part for protection.
The tour of the fort can be self guided, or wait for a ranger to take you around and describe the culture/history. The tour involves going into the powder magazine room, soldier quarters, gun deck that had 74 cannon, and much more. The tour can take about 1-2 hours.
The park is open 8:45-4:45 daily and admission is $6 adults unless you have a NPS pass.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest remaining European fortification in the continential US. It is located on 25 acres in downtown Saint Augustine, right by the beach. Admission is minimal, $6 for anyone 16 and over. It is a wonderful fort, you can tour the prison cells and sleeping quarters, or go up top for a fabulous view of Saint Augustine. Cannon firings are scheduled for most weekends.
he Castillo de San Marcos fort is a definate must see activity. The guides in the fort explain the significance behind the strategic location of the fort. It was facinating the hear the history of the earliest military fort in the US. Entrance fees are $5 for adults, $2 for children 6-12 and under 6 are free. More information can be found on the weblink below
The year 1672 saw work begin on the stone fortress now called the Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was nearly completed in 1696, but not officially dedicated until 1756. Attesting to the strength of the fort, in 1702 Governor James Moore of Carolina led a two month siege without success, and in 1740 an even stronger attack by James Oglethorpe of Georgia was beaten off.
In 1763 Spain gave Florida to Great Britain in exchange for newly conquered Havana, and St. Augustine came under British rule for the first time. England ruled over the city and territory for 20 years which included the period of the American Revolution. The citizens of the city remained loyal to the crown throughout the span. In 1783, under the terms of a treaty signed by England, France and Spain, East Florida and St. Augustine returned to the rule of Spain, which lasted for 37 years.
In this period of the world's history, many changes were taking place in Europe and as a result, Spain sold Florida to the United States. At a colorful military ceremony on July 10, 1821, troops of the United States took possession of the territory and the Spanish soldiers departed, never to return again.
I loved my visit to the Castillo de San Marcos. But I would like to suggest that people visit the three D version on augustine.com before they go to the fort itself. The lady at my condo showed me the 3-D fort and I'm glad she did. I have bad knees and I would never have realized that there were so many up and down steps. So that's a tip for those who are arthritic like I am. Look at the virtual tour first and then go. You'll be forewarned and better prepared. That being said the fort was great!
The upper level of the Castillo de San Marcos is dominated by the four wide, flat gun decks, that connects the corner bastions. The bastions are the Bastion San Pedro to the southwest, Bastion San Agustín to the southeast, Bastion San Pedro to the northeast, and the Bastion San Pablo to the northwest. Each bastion is topped by a cylindrical stone watchtower, the tallest being the San Marcos tower overlooking Matanzas Bay. The bastions and gundecks housed the fort's cannons and mortars. When the fort was first constructed the cannons could only be placed on the bastions, but when it was rebuilt in 1738, the walls were raised, and the gundecks reinforced to actually support guns.
From the upper level of the castillo, you have great views of the bay, the city, the old mission site, and the Saint Augustine lighthouse in the distance.
The lower level of the Castillo de San Marcos contained the majority of the fort's living areas and storage. The entrance to the fort was from a drawbridge over a moat on the south side of the fort. After crossing the bridge, there is a large sally port; the guards stayed next to the entrance while on duty or when the fort was under siege. In the courtyard of the Castillo are three wells with drinking water. Various other rooms within the lower level of the Castillo contain the chapel, storerooms for food, and a powder magazine.
Throughout its history, the Castillo was occasionally used as a prison. During the American Revolution, the British held colonists as prisoner. In the early 1830s, the US government held a variety of Seminole and other Native American here including the famous leader Osceola. During the Civil War, the Union quickly captured the fort and used it to house Confederate prisoners. Later, during the Indian Wars, the Castillo was again used to house Indian prisoners, and its most famous prisoner was David Pendleton Oakerhater, later named an Episcopal saint. In 1898 the fort was again used as a prison, this time to house military deserters who were trying to avoid combat of the Spanish-American War.
The Castillo de San Marcos was built by the Spanish from 1672 to 1695, replacing the nine wooden forts that had been used to defend the city since its founding in 1565. The reason for the upgrade to the massive coquina stone fort? Local pirates attacks and the threat form Britain's recently established port nearby at Charlestown, SC, just two days away by ship.
The coquina stone is a sedimentary rock made from ancient layers of shells or coral pressed into a limestone-like material. When it is wet, it is easy to cut and somewhat pliable, but when dried, it is the perfect stone for a fort: when struck with cannon balls, it absorbs the impact rather than cracking or crumbling like traditional stone or masonry forts. It is the oldest masonry fort and only existing 17th century fort in North America.
The Castillo is a square fort with triangular bastions at each corner. The entrance to the fort is on the southern side, and it is well protected by a triangular ravelin and draw bridge. A moat surrounded three sides of the castillo, and other fourth side is on the water. The east side of the fort also protected the town's main gate, which still exists today.
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