Walking through historic downtown St. Augustine is a tourist’s dream. Between the cute shops to meander through, various restaurant options, and museums offering a glimpse into the past, there surely is something for everyone. As a Jacksonville native, I’ve visited St. Augustine more times than I can count but I always learn or see something new with each visit. We recently made a day trip to St. Augustine to have lunch and walk around. And since my dad had never been, we decided to visit Castillo de San Marcos.
Perched atop a hill along the Matanzas River just before the Bridge of Lions, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fortress and the only existing 17th century military construction in the country. The structure has been used for many different purposes over the years, always straddling the line between being a castle and a fortress.
Built out of coquina, the Castillo was designed by Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza and took 23 years to build, from 1672 to 1695. Coquina was quarried on Anastasia Island in what is now Anastasia State Park and ferried across the river to the construction site. Due to its light and porous nature, coquina seems like a terrible choice for a fortress but microscopic air pockets in the stone make it compressible. Cannon balls that were fired at the structure were absorbed or deflected whereas walls made from harder stones would shatter.
The fort was attacked three times by British forces – 1702, 1728, and 1740 – but the British were never able to take the City of St. Augustine. However, Florida became a British colony in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the fort was used as a military prison during Revolutionary War. At the end of the war, Florida was returned to the Spanish until Florida became a United States Territory in 1821.
In 1924, the fort was declared a National Monument and deactivated in 1933 where it was turned over to United States National Park Service. The fort has gone by many names over the years including Fort Mark and Fort Marion until the original name Castillo de San Marcos was restored by an Act of Congress.
Military members and their families can enjoy FREE entry into all National Parks and federal recreation sites with an annual park pass which can be obtained with a valid military ID at any participating park. For more information on tickets and planning your trip to Castillo de San Marcos, visit nps.gov.