So we took advantage of our 1st free National Park Admission and visited Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine (which was built between 1672-1695) during our summer trip and it was totally AMAZING!!! We are HUGE history fans and love to visit places where our children learn something. So, to get the chance to visit the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States for FREE was totally AWESOME! Normal admission to the Castillo is $10/person and children under 15 are free. Parking was $1.50 as opposed to $5 every where else.
For those of you who haven’t heard of of Castillo de San Marcos before let me share a little bit of background with you.On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed on the shore of what is Matanzas Bay today, and began the founding of the Presidio of San Agustin.From 1565-1668 ten forts were built. The first 9 forts were built out of wood.
This could be why it is still standing over 322 years later. So why did they build the castillo in the first place? Well, the Queen Mariana wanted them to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World. It is now considered to be a National Monument and it’s the oldest structure in St. Augustine.The fort is beautifully located overlooking the Matanzas Bay and the Saint John River.
It wasn’t until after a pirate attack on St. Augustine that the Queen Regent Mariana ordered for the construction of the fortress that would become the Castillo de San Marcos in 1672.It took 23 years for the Spaniards to build a large fort, which is one of two forts built of coquina. What is coquina? A soft limestone that indigenous to the area and quarried from Anastasia Island,composed of broken shells. Now, why did the Spaniards opt to use coquina instead of stone? Well, because instead of cracking or collapsing, coquina walls absorbed or deflected enemy projectiles.
The coquina walls were so strong that the Castillo was never conquered despite many attacks including the 1740 attacks by English General James Oglethorpe who attempted to subdue the town. General Oglethorpe was firing from the tip of Anastasia Island, but quickly found out that he his cannonballs were no match for the coquin walls, which absorbed the blast.
The picture of the Florida state flag flying over the Castillo de San Marcos is such a simple one. However, it has such a rich history. Did you know that….many flags have flown during the Castillo de San Marcos throughout the course of it’s illustrious history.
From 1695 – 1763 the Spain flag flew.
Then from 1763 – 1784 the British flag flew over the fort and it was know as Fort St. Marks.
Then, after the Revolutionary War the Spanish flag flew over the Castillo de San Marcos again from 1784 – 1821.
On July 21, 1821 Spain conceded to the heavy pressure from the United States on the Empire and gave Florida up.During this time the Castillo de San Marcos was known as Fort Marion. The name Fort Marion was in honor of Revolutionary War General Francis Marion.
In 1845, Florida became a state in the Union, but would only remain so until December of 1860.
It joined other Southern states to form the Confederate States of America and entered the ensuing American Civil War. During the War, Fort Marion was in Union hands for the majority of it, having been handed over to the Confederates in January, 1861 on the basis of a receipt for the Fort and all of its contents signed by Confederate authorities and given to the Union commander.
It wasn’t until March 11, 1862 that the Union regained control of the fort. The interesting thing is that the Confederates had evacuated the area and the locals left behind surrendered to the Union in order to save the town. Beginning in 1870, the fort housed Seminole Indians detained by the U.S. Government. During the Spanish American War in 1898, the fort housed about 200 court-martialed deserters from the American Army imprisoned within its walls.
It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century, that the Fort finally completed its long tour of duty and was finally made a national monument in 1900 after serving six flags over the course of 205 years.It wasn’t until 1933 that Castillo de San Macros joined the National Park Service. What an interesting history a simple flag can share. Once a year they hold a reenactment of the change of flags. It sounds like something cool to see.
The entrance is via a draw-bridge over a moat!! An actual moat!!! My kids were over the moon that they got to see a real drawbridge and moat. Once inside you taken into past!All the staff is dressed in their 1400’s attire except for the park rangers who were dressed in their uniform. In the fort there are many rooms to explore we spent about an hour and a half walking through the fort. We saw the soldiers quarters and guard turrets.The cannons were amazing and the view from the top of the fort of St. Augustine was fabulous this was my boys favorite thing to see.
It was amazing to walk through all the rooms in the castle and see the way they lived in the fort. In the King’s room they had someone writing summons. It was cool They also had books for the kids to fill out with what they had learned to get a badge.They had two levels one for the younger children. The book below is for the older children and when they complete it they get two badges. The younger ones have a one sheet where they circle their answer and they get only one badge when they turn it in.
Enjoy this online tour of San Marcos :
So in the end for those of you interested in visiting a site which is foundation of St. Augustine’s intricate history this is a must see.
They have guided tours early in the day. However, we got there late in the day so we just guided ourselves. LOL!
Sea Life Viewing Tip: We recommend that you take a moment to walk to the stone seawall on the water side of the fort. Not only is the view amazing, but dolphins are regularly spotted there mornings and late afternoon… Sometimes manatee too.