Thursday, April 21, 2011

Today's pick is the most iconic structure in northeast Florida's landscape: the Castillo de San Marcos. Located in downtown St. Augustine, the Castillo has watched over the city for more than 300 years. 

The Castillo de San Marcos

Built between 1672-1695, the Castillo is a massive structure made from coquina, northeast Florida's native stone.  It was the tenth fort built by the Spanish to protect the city.  Though it changed hands several times, it was never taken by force. 

Within the walls of the Castillo.  Visitors can tour rooms used for lodging, munitions storage, religious services, and more

Visitors can walk around the outside, through the rooms within, and finally up to the gun deck where cannon are still fired (though the replicas are not loaded). 

A view from the Castillo's terreplein, or gun deck

Every time I tour the Castillo, I'm struck by how much I can see of the people who lived and worked there. From the outside it's easy to just think of it as an structure for protection and military conflict, made up of only stone and strategy. Inside, though, the National Park Service has terrific interpretation that allows us to see into daily life. There's historic graffiti carved into bunk-room walls. Visitors can still sit in the chapel where Catholic services were held. We can even see the rooms in which prisoners--including Osceola and other Seminoles--were held, and get a sense of how bleak it must have been to be trapped within the Castillo's walls.

Even years after my first visit, some of the Castillo's rooms give me chills--they are intriguing, inspiring, unsettling.  You can take my word for it, but you know what I'm going to say by now.  Go experience it for yourself!

For more information on the Castillo de San Marcos, visit its NPS site.

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