Castillo de San Marcos

National Monument.

St. Augustine, FL

November 19th, 1999

In entering Florida, we began a long circumnavigation of the coastal area. Our first stop on the east coast was the fabulous city of St. Augustine. In St. Augustine we found a true historical treasure. The whole center of town is a historic district. Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, St. Augustine is the oldest continually surviving city in North America. It has had a fiery and troublesome existence. In 1688 the pirate Robert Seales sacked the city resulting in the construction of the still standing Fort Castillo de San Marcos. This masterpiece was constructed out of a local sedimentary rock called Coquina. This material allowed cannon balls to penetrate and thus couldn't be breached by knocking the walls down. The structure was built between 1672 and 1695, as the succession of nine wooden forts that had protected St. Augustine since its founding. The Fort's commanding location on the west bank of Matanzas Bay allowed its guns to protect, not only the harbor entrance but the ground to the north, against a land attack. The town of St. Augustine is spread out south and west from the Fort. Castillo de San Marcos was for many years the northernmost outpost of Spain's vast New World empire. It is the oldest masonry fort and the best-preserved example of a Spanish colonial fortification in the continental United States. It was built in the traditional Spanish square with four bastions extending out from the corners. A single entrance/exit faced southward secured by a portcullis and a draw bridge which was operated by a windless and counter weights allowing it to be raised over the moat. When approaching enemy ships or troops were observed, a cannon was fired. This signal sent the townspeople running for the entrance. To protect the ingress of civilians, a free standing ravelin stood in the moat, able to fire over the heads of those fleeing. As we entered the Castillo we found the great crest of Spain formed into the entrance wall. The castle and lion of this simplified royal coat of arms of Spain are symbols of the Kingdoms of Castillo and Leon, which joined to form modern Spain. Brought from Havana and installed in 1762, this stone graced the ravelin (the detached entrance fortification) until 1958, when it was removed and placed indoors. A replica of this stone can be seen in its place. We proceeded into the courtyard, known to the Spaniards as Plaza de Armas, which was used for a parade ground within the fort. Rooms were built as part of the wall, all around the interior. Just inside the fort we met one of the most memorable characters of our visit. The fascinating and outspoken Frank Suddeth, a high school history teacher who, reportedly, was just as likely to show up in class wearing his Spanish uniform as not. He took time out to explain, in delightful detail, a variety of trivia about the Fort. Before we moved on, he presented us with four of his published pamphlets on the people and history that created this fascinating story.

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