Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the United States in St. Augustine, Florida. Its construction began in 1672 by the Spanish. It was completed twenty-three years later in 1695. It was put together with a stone called coquina. This Spanish word translates to mean “little shells”. The coquina was a sturdy material for forts during this time because it absorbed much of the impact caused by cannon shells and allowed little harm to the fort’s wall.
The fort was built to protect and defend Spain’s claim of Florida in the New World. The fort was a stronghold in battle, but this did not stop the United States from acquiring the fort after the signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. In the hands of America the fort served as a military prison and the name was changed to Fort Marion. In 1924 the fort was designated a National Monument. Then in 1933 it was transferred to the National Park service from the war department. In honor of the two and half centuries of Spanish heritage the fort’s name was changed back to Castillo de San Marcos.
The first picture to the left is the royal coat of arms of Spain. In the stone are engravings of castles and lions which serve as a symbol of the kingdoms and castles of Castillo and Leon. This stone was installed in 1762 on the detached entrance fortification, but in 1958 it was removed and placed indoors. In its place a replica now stands proudly.
In the photo to the left, you can see the hardware and materials that would have been used to build a fort during the construction of St. Augustine. The hardware was simply iron shaped into nails. They could be made into a variety of sizes. The materials used to build the fort were readily available resources collected on the beaches. The concrete flooring underneath the gun deck was composed by mixing crushed coquina with lime mortar, oyster shells, sand, and water. Oyster shells were burned to make lime. The mortar was a mixture of lime plus added sand.
To the left is the barracks added when the British gained control of the fort after the French and Indian War. The bunks were built to sleep four. Two on top and two below. In modern days, we sleep like royalty on our king sized beds, but this was not the case during the early days of America.
The fort also sustained a chapel inside its walls which you can see in the photo to the right. Mass was conducted by a priest for the Spanish soldiers. This was an important addition to the Spanish way of life.
To finish off the tour, I climbed the steps to reach the second story of the fort. On this story, I was able to get a closer look at the cannons that functioned as defense against incoming enemies. It also provided a wonderful view of the bay and the entire St. Augustine. Below you can watch the Youtube video of my tour at Castillo de San Marcos.