January 2, 2012

Two More Forts

Tim and I continued our exploration of historic forts today, visiting both Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida, as well as Fort Matanzas National Monument just fifteen miles to the south.  

I can’t believe how many forts there are to visit, just along the southeast coast of the United States.  Let’s see now.  We’ve been to forts that are only archeological sites – Jamestown and Fort Raleigh.  Fort Frederica has a few remaining ruins, and Fort Sumter and Fort Matanzas have been at least partially reconstructed.  Two forts have been beautifully preserved – Fort Pulaski and Castillo de San Marcos.  All of these forts (as well as a few that we missed) are managed by the National Park Service.  There are also many other forts managed by states or private foundations.  That’s a lot of military history.  Although I never thought I was that interested in forts, I’ve become intrigued not only with the architecture, but also the history of each of the forts we’ve visited.

As we drove south, we entered what was once the Province of Florida, a part of Spain’s New World empire.  St. Augustine is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental United States and was the political, military and religious capital of Florida.  Spain viewed St. Augustine primarily as a military base to protect Spain’s trade and commerce.  The Castillo de San Marcos was the primary means of defense.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort and the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial fortification in the continental United States.  It is a very heavily visited site, and I was glad we were not there over the weekend.  The interpretive programs at the fort are heavy on living history reenactments, including historical weapons demonstrations that we were able to see.

One of the Diamond-Shaped Bastions
The Plaza de Armas, or Courtyard
Even the Canon on the Gun Deck Are Lovely
The Fort Is Built of Coquina, a Local Stone Comprised of Shells
Wait, Don't Shoot
St. Augustine is a beautiful town that contains a wealth of historic buildings.  The Spanish colonial era is well-represented, and I couldn’t help but compare the town plan with its central plaza to some of the early Spanish towns in the Southwest.  Buildings from later periods are also interspersed, including those from the early twentieth century when Henry Flagler brought his railroad and grand hotels to the city.  Some of my favorite buildings are the hotels that Flagler built, one of which is now Flagler College.

The Former Ponce de Leon Hotel Is Now Flagler College
Beautiful Courtyard
St. George Street in the Colonial Spanish Quarter
We decided to finish our visit to the area with a stop at Fort Matanzas National Monument.  Here, a visit to the fort requires a ferry ride across Matanzas River.  The fort is tiny compared to the others we have visited, but was the scene of crucial events in Spanish colonial history.  This was the site where French soldiers were massacred in 1565.  The fort itself was constructed in 1740-42 and was Spain’s last effort to fend off the British.  Although Fort Matanzas is less well-known than its big brother up the coast, this fort was definitely worth the stop.

Fort Matanzas National Monument
Protecting Matanzas Inlet

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