Standing sentry over St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, is the formidable Castillo de San Marcos. Positioned strategically on Matanzas Bay, the fort was built by the Spanish to protect the town and is the most often visited historic site in St. Augustine. Still standing after more than 300 years, obviously the fort has done its job of protecting the citizens of St. Augustine, allowing the city to grow and thrive to present day.
The Castillo de San Marcos
The Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. After 9 wooden forts designed to protect St. Augustine were burned by invaders, the Spanish militia took on the monumental task of constructing a stone fort that would protect the city and its treasury from pirates, the British and other attackers. The Castillo is made from coquina, a locally sourced stone-like compound made of shell and limestone. The use of coquina as the building material for both the Castillo de San Marcos and the nearby Fort Matanzas created fortresses that were nearly indestructible. Construction of the Castillo began in 1672 and took 23 years to complete. This stronger fortress was never taken in battle. The Castillo played a pivotal role in protecting Spanish St. Augustine from the 1700s to the late 1800s.
In 1924, the Castillo, or Fort Marion as it was known at the time, was declared a national monument by President Calvin Coolidge. He signed a proclamation that also designated Fort Matanzas a national monument.
Fort Matanzas, located on the Intracoastal Waterway south of St. Augustine, was built by Spanish soldiers as the back door protecting the city by preventing the British sailing through Matanzas Bay from invading St. Augustine. Today, Fort Matanzas has grown to a park of almost 300 acres and features walking trails, picnic areas, small tidal beaches and of course the fort located on Rattlesnake Island, which visitors get to by ferry.
Fort Mose State Park
A state park, Fort Mose is historically significant as home to the first free African settlement in the U.S. Here, in 1738, slaves fled the British and were granted freedom by the Spanish in exchange for conversion to Catholicism and allegiance to the Spanish crown. While the fort no longer stands, the park has a history museum and hosts several festivals and historic re-enactments throughout the year.