St. Augustine’s Top Historic Landmark
I’ve always been inexplicably drawn to historic landmarks. There is a specific feeling that surrounds a place rich in story and culture. It fills me with a sense of wonder to walk around the space and allow my mind to imagine the imprint of countless lives before me that stood where I’m standing and look where I’m looking.
What were they like? How did they feel? What were they passionate about? What did they hope for? What story did they have to share?
An intense craving for this sense of wander is what led me to visit St Augustine in October 2017.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the nation. Its history stretches back before the US was founded and has many top historic landmarks to offer as a result. But I knew before even hopping in the car which place I wanted to see first: Castillo De San Marcos.
Castillo De San Marcos
The Castillo de San Marcos is a 17th century military construction earning it the title of the oldest masonry fort in the United States. Sitting on 20.5 acres, the “bastion system” fortification is a stunning display of the centuries’ work of military defense engineering that culminated to create it… It is truly a unique piece of history in North America.
What struck me immediately upon walking up to the fort was the sheer size of the stone walls. Fourteen feet deep at the base of the wall, tapering into a still-mightily-impressive nine feet deep at the top: this fort was built to withstand tremendous force from enemy attack.
Once inside, visitors are given the opportunity to attend a walking tour hosted by a member of the National Park Service, but I opted for the self guided tour.
The center of the fort is a courtyard, once home to military training exercises and daily chores. Small rooms surround the courtyard on multiple levels. A majority of which now offer displays to explore.
Convenience outweighed logic: the material used to build the fort is distinctive. It is one of only two forts in the world that were built using Coquina, a semi-rare form of limestone ( the other fort is only 14 miles south, Fort Matanzas National Monument) due to the abundance of the material in the area. At first thought, the porous, light limestone seems an odd choice of material for a fort, but it turned out to have an unexpected benefit. The limestone could actually absorb impact! Microscopic air pockets within the stone allowed the wall to withstand cannon fire that would otherwise obliterate its target.
I was particularly struck by a cannon on display in one of the fort’s small rooms. In 1702, this very cannon exploded upon fire. I can’t even imagine the force it must have taken to blow apart 3,000 pounds worth of iron. This artifact was uncovered in the moat surrounding the fort many years later.
Many of the rooms gave a peek into the past. Bunk beds, desks, and cooking ware were set up to show exactly what life would have been like in the 1600-1700’s. Living spaces were confined; notice that there are four coats and four hats here. Each bunk slept two men on the bottom, and two men on top.
Daily life did not leave much room for relaxation. Many of the soldiers stationed in the fort worked full-time jobs in addition to their military duties.
The attention to detail in each room really allowed my mind to wander. It felt like I had been transported back in time. The walls were covered in graffiti dating back centuries – it was clear that these lost souls never wanted to be forgotten.
I’m thankful for the National Park Service’s dedication to these monuments. Keeping history present seems paradoxical, but the Park Service makes it look effortless.
- Open 7 days a week, except Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving.
- From 8:45 am to 5:00 pm.
- Adults who are 16 years and older: $10
- Children who are 15 and under: Free if accompanied by an adult.
Address, Website, & Phone
- 1 South Castillo Dr. Saint Augustine, FL 32084
- (904) 829-6506