St. Augustine: The Place Where Hispanic Heritage in the U.S. Was Born

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St. Augustine, Fla. -- By the time the first English settlement in the new world was established at Jamestown, Va., St. Augustine had been a thriving coastal town for more than 40 years. Founded by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565, the influence of Spanish history in St. Augustine is still evident today, more than four centuries later.

In recent years, Florida’s Historic Coast has celebrated its Spanish heritage with new attractions, culturally influenced dining and entertainment and informative small group tours. Visitors can explore the heritage of the diverse people who built the city and called it home for centuries before it became a part of the United States at the following historic sites and attractions.

Colonial Quarter ( 29 St. George Street) This 2-acre living history museum recreates St. Augustine’s storied past: 16th Century Spanish - The First City; 17th Century - Spanish Fortified Town; 18th Century - Spanish Garrison Town; and 18th Century British - The 14th Colony. Visitors can explore the centuries and mingle with authentically costumed historic interpreters, participate in a musket drill, climb 35 feet to the top of a 17th century watchtower or sip on refreshments in the Taberna de Caballo, an intimate Spanish tavern, or at the British centric Bull & Crown Pub.

Castillo de San Marcos (1 S. Castillo Dr.) This massive fortress, which took more than 20 years to build (1672- 1695), helped protect Spain’s treasure fleets from the British and pirates. Designed by Ignacio Daza, a Spanish engineer living in Cuba, it is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and was designated as America’s first national monument.

Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park (11 Magnolia Ave) Commemorating the founding of La Florida by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and his legendary search for the Fountain of Youth, archeologists have discovered that the park is the actual site of the original Spanish settlement of St. Augustine of 1565. Spanish colonial military cannon firings, an authentic 16th century boat works, a recreated Seloy Indian Village and exhibits demonstrating how the Spanish explorers navigated the seas are part of this classic experience in St. Augustine.

Gonzalez-Alvarez House (14 St. Francis St.) “The Oldest House” was built in approximately 1702 and owned by a soldier named Tomas Gonzalez. In 1812, it was the home of St. Augustine Mayor Geronimo Alvarez. The home is a National Landmark and is owned by the St. Augustine Historical Society and open for public tours.

Mission Nombre de Dios (27 Ocean Avenue) On Sept. 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore and founded St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. On that date, Father Francisco Lopez offered the first Holy Mass here—a site that became the home of the first Catholic parish in the nation. The museum on site tells the story of the mission and visitors can light a candle in the shrine of Our Lady of Le Leche.

Plaza de la Constitucion Established in 1573, the town square is named for its monument to the Spanish constitution of 1812. Soon after the monument was erected, when the monarchy was restored, all such monuments in Spanish territories were ordered to be destroyed. However, St. Augustine’s governor refused and the original monument that stands today is believed to be the only one remaining in the world.

Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida's Historic Coast includes historic St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra and 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches. For more information on events, activities, holiday getaways, accommodations and to plan your vacation in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau website at www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com, become a fan on Facebook or call 1.800.653.2489.

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