Ponce De Leon, while searching for the Fountain of Youth, first claimed Florida for Spain back in 1513. The Florida peninsula with it’s proximity to the new world shipping routes and it’s available harbors proved to be a very valuable claim and in 1564 the French too claimed a foothold on it’s shores. King Phillip II sent an expedition to eliminate the French threat and establish settlements in Florida and in 1565 this expedition landed at and established Florida’s first city, Saint Augustine.
In 1586, England became the next threat to contend with as the British led by Sir Francis Drake attacked and burned Saint Augustine. Then came the pirates who attacked, burned and plundered their way through the First City in 1668. After all this burning and plundering and because the British had started settlements in, 1st Jamestown and then Charleston, Spain decided that the wooden fortifications were no longer enough to protect the harbor entrance and the city of Saint Augustine. In 1672 ground was broken and building began on the Castillo De San Marcos.
The Castillo has changed hands over the years, Spain to Great Britain, Great Britain back to Spain, then finally in 1821 Spain to the United States and in 1933 the Castillo was transferred from the United States War Department to the U.S. National Park Service.
Today, The Castillo de San Marcos stands as the oldest and most preserved example of Spanish colonial fortification in the U.S. and has become a popular destination for tourist and history buffs alike. Built out of coquina, sedimentary rock that is composed mostly of fragmented sea shells, the outer walls of the Castillo ranges from 14 to 19 feet thick, making the fort practically indestructible.
Climb the steps to the gun deck and take in the magnificent view of the harbor and city below and you will see why this location was chosen. From the gun deck a soldier would have had a clear view of any impending threat coming by sea or by land and could quickly ring the bell to alert the city. Explore throughout the rooms of the fortress and examine and view exhibits describing the history and life of the soldiers that once defended the city. Walk through the courtyard where soldiers would assemble to drill with their muskets and also where townspeople would seek refuge when the city was under attack.
The Castillo De San Marcos National Monument is open everyday except for Thanksgiving and Christmas so plan a visit and explore this 300 plus year old piece of Florida history.
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