(Continued from last Sunday, July 23rd post – Beach Days.)
Day 5, Monday, July 17th: We started out early to explore historic St. Augustine and Fort Castillo de San Marcos. I’ve been to St. Augustine several times before, but never on a weekday. I am now of the opinion that Monday morning is one of the best times to visit, should you get a chance to do so. The crowds were almost nonexistent and we enjoyed wandering up and down St. George’s Street (the main thoroughfare through historic St. Augustine), looking at some of the little shops and old buildings. The street is pedestrian only.
St. Augustine is the oldest European-established city in the U.S. It was founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and was the capitol of Spanish Florida for 200 years. When Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in the early 1800s, St. Augustine remained the capitol until Tallahassee was made capitol in 1824.
One of my favorite buildings on St. George’s Street is The Old School House. It was built over 200 years ago and is the oldest schoolhouse in the U.S. I’ve read that the schoolmaster and his wife lived upstairs, with the classroom on the bottom floor. I’m not exactly sure who the mannequin in the upper window is supposed to portray, but I consider it downright creepy. The schoolhouse itself is cool though.
Another spot worth a quick visit is the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to the first colony of Greek people in America, who arrived in Florida in 1768.
There are numerous other historic buildings and fun shops along St George’s Street; I’ve been in quite a few of them several times, and so I didn’t take pictures of them all on this trip.
One place I had never visited before was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. Originally established in 1565, the church has an interesting history. The first construction burned in 1586, the second in 1599, and the third in 1702. After the fire in 1702, a new cathedral was not completed until 1797, and that building is the one you can see today.
After leaving the Basilica and St. George’s Street to turn onto Cathedral Place, we headed over to Civil Rights Memorial Park. Pictured below is the Confederate Monument, which is simply dedicated to “Our Confederate Dead”. I’m not sure where the Civil Rights Memorial itself is located. As we entered the park, there was some shirtless guy doing push-ups in the gazebo and staring at us, (which came across as slightly awkward), so my sister and I walked on past to another area instead. Haha.
We stopped briefly to look at this beautiful building (Virtue Cathedral Associates LLC, I believe) through the trees.
Being the history nerd that I am, I had to get a picture of the Juan Ponce de Leon statue. Ponce de Leon was the first European to discover Florida in 1513.
Our next stop was Fort Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the United States. The fort’s construction began in 1672 and was finished in 1695. Over time various renovations have been made, but the core is still the same as it was in 1695. Between 1695 and 1763, the fort survived two sieges from the British, including one where about 1,500 townspeople and soldiers were crammed into the fort for two months. In 1763, the British finally took control of the Castillo through the Treaty of Paris, but it was returned to Spain in the 2nd Treaty of Paris in 1783. When Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819, the fort became the property of the United States and was renamed Fort Marion. (Are you following this?)
During the American Civil War, Fort Marion was taken by the Confederacy in 1861 and then retaken by the Union in 1862. Fort Marion then acted as a military prison until 1900, when its 200 years of service were ended. In 1942, it was renamed Fort Castillo de San Marcos in honor of its Spanish heritage, and today it is a popular tourist attraction.
Below my sister and I explore the fort’s ravelin. The look on my face is likely due to the outdoor temperature being close to 95 degrees Fahrenheit that day. With the sun reflecting off the surrounding walls, the fort was a veritable oven. The heat and humidity in some of the lower rooms were so bad that I could only imagine how miserable it would have been to live in such a place as a soldier or prisoner. The fact is that many of the prisoners held at Fort Castillo in the late 1800s through the turn of the century did die, quite a few of them being Native Americans captured in the western Indian Wars.
While exploring one corner of the fort, we came across the powder magazine.
When this room was built in 1675, the walls were buried in the dirt fill of the San Carlos bastion, in order to protect the gunpowder from enemy fire. The magazine ended up being too damp and poorly ventilated to store gunpowder, and the powder was later moved to another area of the fort. I’ve also read that the room was sealed off for a time and later rediscovered, as well as possibly used for a dungeon at one point, but was unable to find any definitive information on that. My curiosity is now piqued, however, and I will be doing some research in order to learn more.
The mysterious room was dark, slightly creepy, and had a ridiculous level of humidity. There was almost no natural light coming in through the tiny entrance.
Once on top of the fort’s walls and bastions we caught a slightly cool breeze, which was a relief.
The sentry tower:
After walking around in the heat for several hours, we were feeling rather damp and tired, so we returned to the car. Our next destination was Fort Matanzas, which is a 30-minute drive south of Fort Castillo. It was built by the Spanish in the mid-1700s to guard the Matanzas Inlet. Unfortunately a storm was approaching when we arrived, and tours of the fort had been canceled due to the threat of lightening. I took a few pictures of the park’s beautiful trees before we got in the car and headed back toward St. Augustine.
We made a brief stop at the St. Augustine Beach Pier and admired the oncoming storm clouds for a few minutes before heading home.
Overall, St. Augustine and Fort Castillo de San Marcos were definitely worth the visit and I would go again given the opportunity.
Next Sunday I’ll be posting about our visit to Manatee Springs State Park. 🙂
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