Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Castillo de San Marcos, walkaround

     I have been going to visit the Castillo de San Marcos on an almost yearly basis for over thirty years. The fact that it located in the delightful seaside town of Saint Augustine Florida doesn't detract from its allure. As the oldest continuously occupied European site in North America I greatly enjoy the sense of history. The Spanish started building forts here shortly after claiming Florida as their own. Repeated piratical visits by all and sundry (combined with the regular burning of the town) finally led the Spanish authorities to take the plunge and build a proper stone fortress to replace the often-destroyed wooded ones. The result was the magnificent stone structure that still stands today.

an aerial view of the Castillo courtesy of Google Earth


this handy diagram illustrates the parts of a star-fort rather well (it should, I lifted it from a book about the Castillo) except it calls the wall a "scarp" and I refer to it as a curtain wall

this is a copy of the original royal crest, it is mounted in the wall of the ravelin
the original stone is displayed in the museum inside the fort

a look to the east from the rear of the ravelin
panning around to the west

cannons on the curtain wall overlooking the moat around the ravelin

cannons looking directly into the rear of the ravelin
the drawbridge was being repaired

so the Park Service built this serviceable, but ugly, walkway

looking west from the rear of the ravelin, the moat was designed to be a dry moat 
but sometime after the fort was decommissioned somebody flooded it.... 

.......... this has caused damage to the foundations and the southwest bastion 
has suffered damage, notice the cracks running down the face of the wall, the Parks service has drained the moat (it is only wet in the photos due to heavy rain overnight) and has stabilized the foundations to prevent further problems

unlike European fortresses the gateway to the Castillo is very functional and plain

just behind that massive bean you can see the 
counter weighted pulleys that raise and lower the drawbridge 
there is also a portcullis that closes the interior of the doorway

just inside the doorway and to the right is what we would call the "ready-room" today,
 it provided accommodations for the soldiers standing guard

the fireplace might surprise some people who think of Florida as eternally warm and sunny, 
having been there in January I can tell you that the fireplace would be a welcome addition

and it is big enough to cook a samll ox in!

the thick walls and high vaulted ceiling keep the inside reasonably cool even in hot weather

an interior door accesses an adjoining bombproof

like bored soldiers throughout history 
the troops stationed here left graffitti to commemorate their time served

further eastward another door enters the prison cell,
 this lacks even the primitive amenities present in the other barracks rooms

I told my kids that this was the "Time-Out" room 
and picked them up so that they could look inside

they thought it "was cool" and wanted to go in

returning to the entry passage and looking into the courtyard

the uniformed interpretive staff are very authentic and well-informed

and they are particularly enthusiastic when they find out that you
 are a real history buff and not just a tourist looking to kill a few hours

the western end of the southern interior wall
the low structure in the bottom left corner is the well

panning to the east, the windows over the doorways were for light and ventilation, 
there were no upper stories until the British took over the fort, 
during the Spanish period the soldiers lived in town during times of peace

panning further east, the large opening is the entrance
and just in the very left of the picture is the base of the stairway

looking north at the western end of the northern interion wall

the ornate arched doorway in the northern wall is the entrance to the chapel

the eastern end of the northern interior wall

continuing panning this is the northern end of the eastern interior wall

continuing panning

the entire southeastern corner of the fort is occupied by the stairway, in the Spanish period it was a ramp, the British made it a stairway when they took the fort over and made significant changes

the latrines were located under the lower part of the stairway, these were linked to an underground system of pipes that used the action of the tides and waves to keep the plumbing flushed out 
my kids were disappointed that these were no longer in use

those facilities have been relocated into a much more civilized set of circumstances under the large arch, I commend the Parks Service for going to great lengths to make the fort visitor-friendly while maintaining a very high degree of historical presence 

looking at the southern end of the western interior wall

panning north

the junction of the northern and western interior walls

the inner face of the end of the stairway

another view of the same

restoration of certain details is undertaken when repairs are needed, 
on closer examination you can see areas of the original plaster work, 
in its heyday the entire fort was covered (insiode and out)
in a fine bright white stucco made from local seashells

the interior of another bombproof, the holes at the juncture between the barrel vault 
and the walls are from the British period when they installed a second floor in the rooms

looking south from the northeast inside corner

panning to the west

still panning west

musket drill explained to the tourists

I do love watching them all jump when the gun goes off

close-up of the chapel arch and door

the chapel is properly paved while most of the bombproofs have rough floors

the Holy Water font

an interior passageway 

a small cannon, frustratingly these have no identifying information with them, 
British? American? Spanish?

the Altar of the chapel

more of that cannon

the British era barracks

detail of a doorway, west wall northern corner

a little clearer look at the interior northwest corner

and an across-the-courtyard shot of the stairway

close-up of the chapel entrance

this might have been the one thing that caused me to build my model of the fort,
a cast-copper model of the Castillo to help visually-impaired visitors understand the structure 
it is about four feet across

an unusual exterior ventilation window, it is barely visible from the outside 
I believe it dates to a later period when the US Army used the fort as a prison

window arrangements get odd in the corners as the bombproofs begin to overlap

the actual  royal coat of arms from the ravelin

detail of the stairs

at the top of the stairs, looking southeast 

a view from a gunport overlooking the entrance
a slightly wider view encompassing the rear of the ravelin and the entire drawbridge

looking south from the southeast bastion

looking into the rear of the ravelin from the interior corner of the southeast bastion,
this ravelin is unusual in that it has a rear wall

looking along the southern face of the southeastern bastion

most of the fancy bronze guns were captured from Mexico during the Mexican-American War
 (the Mexicans had captured then from the Spanish during their Revolutionary War)

the guns bear plaques indicating the circumstances of their capture

looking north from the tip of the southeast bastion
 at the watchtower on the northeast bastion

a view of the Water Battery from the same location,
 this battery was added during the Civil War

panning south along the Water Battery

each bastion has a sentry box or "Garita" for the soldier standing duty 
they are quite tiny

time has been cruel to the fancy details

a look west from the Garita into the moat

another look north from that same Garita

the watch tower was tall enough to see out to sea, there were further watchtowers 
(not nearly as fancy as this one) located all  along the outer islands 
to provide warning of approaching hostile ships

a look down into the moat from the southeast bastion,
 the hot-shot oven dates from the Civil War

the odd square structures that look like old-fashioned Police boxes are chimneys
all those fireplaces in to bombproofs needed chimneys, 
the tops are to prevent the torrential local rain from getting into the flue

a look down into the courtyard from the southeast corner

more cannon

some of them are quite ornate

my Spanish is bad, my Latin is worse 
somebody give me a hand here

the parapet on the seaward (eastern) side was lower and lacked gunports, 
this allowed the cannon a wider field of play if ships entered the harbor

the watchtower in the northeastern bastion

details of the large watchtower

looking down into the moat from the northeast bastion

and then panning westward

the view along the north curtain wall from a gunport on the inner face of the northeast bastion

looking across the interior of the fort from the northeast bastion toward Saint Augustine, 
the two towers in the center of the skyline are the main building of Flagler College

a view into the moat and covered way from the north curtain wall

the inner face of the northeast bastion from the north curtain wall

looking north across the moat and covered way and down the glacis

more Spanish ordinance, this is a mortar

such a lovely piece of the caster's art deserves a better mount

this monster has an all bronze carriage

the courtyard from the northwest

constant repairs are undertaken to keep this historic landmark in good order

if I ever win the Lotto I am going to pay the Park Service to fully
restore the Castillo and cover it with white stucco as it should be

looking along the moat from the northwest bastion

looking into the northwest bastion

and a view over the parapet to the northwest

looking north

and looking northeast

this one has a bore of about 14", you could fire a small person from it

looking south from the northwest bastion

the ravelin has its very own drawbridge

looking at the ravelin from inside the covered way to the east 

a view of the inside of the covered way in front of the ravelin

looking north at the ravelin from the inner angle of the covered way

panning westward

looking west from the inner angle of the covered way in front of the ravelin

the moat from the inside of the covered way just west of the ravelin

steps down from the covered way into the moat

the entire inner face of the covered way was built of coquina, 
it has suffered badly from the ravages of tourists (and time)

looking west along the southern side of the covered way

there is a substantial amount of space to marshal troops
 in the covered way behind the protection of the glacis

the Garita on the southwest bastion seen from the covered way

the inner face of the moat has held up fairly well

looking back at the ravelin from the southwest corner of the covered way 

panning to the north

looking straight north

the western interior of the covered way

the covered way joins the Cubo Line in the center of the western face

you can see the pathway exit the covered way in the left of this picture,
 it runs along the southern side of the Cubo Line to the City gate

 looking north

panning south along the western face of the Castillo

looking due south along the western side of the covered way

the exit into the Cubo Line from the covered way

looking into the moat from the northwest corner

again, the moat is supposed to be a dry moat (it was used to corral livestock during sieges) 
heavy rains the night before these pictures were taken left puddles everywhere

panning eastward

the tip of the northwest bastion

looking along the northern face of the fort from the west

the northern covered way

the northeast bastion with the watch tower seen from the covered way

panning across the northern face of the fortress

detail of the inner face of the covered way

a view of the northern face of the curtain wall from on the glacis

a look at the north curtain from the covered way 
(notice the small wall which is about four feet tall)

the same angle from about one hundred feet down the slope of the glacis

notice how much of the wall is covered, 
at the foot of the glacis you can only see the top ten feet of curtain wall

the Water Battery looking south from the north end of the battery

a view south along the Water Battery from the top of the battery parapet

the northeast bastion

the north face of the Castillo from the east

the moat terminates in the flank of the Water battery

looking south along the Water Battery

and north from the same position

looking south along the Water Battery from the outer edge of the parapet

the hot-shot oven, this this is big about six feet wide
 a common feature in fortresses pre-1860 
they were intended to heat cannon balls red-hot hoping to set wooden ships alight

looking north from the central apex of the Water Battery

and panning south

assorted cannon, again with frustratingly little information

looking north from the south end of the Water Battery

and panning to the west along the southern face of the fort

the view from the waterside promenade

looking at the Castillo from the south you can see how completely the ravelin covers the gateway

the much-modified southern glacis, 
it has lost a great deal of height and length to erosion and city encroachment

the city gate

a view across the southern face of the fort 
from the apex of the southwest corner of the covered way

panning across the fort to end up looking north

the rear of the Cubo Line

the Line extended to join the City gate and then cut across to 
the San Sebastian River protecting the northern end of the city

the western side of the Castillo

the exit from the covered way

the western glacis, it too has suffered from erosion and encroachment

the rear of the Cubo Line, 
it was an earthen rampart with palmetto log reinforcement

the northern side of the Cubo Line, the ditch would have been planted with Spanish Bayonets,
 a very spiky plant which would have been decidedly unpleasant to try to traverse while under fire

the Cubo Line from a distance the Spanish Bayonet would have been invisible from a hundred yards out and would have come as a nasty surprise to an attacker

looking south from the northwest corner of the covered way

and panning to the east

the City gate

from here the Cubo Line carried on westwards to the San Sebastian River

this was the only entrance on the northern side of the city

the Santo Domingo Redoubt, there were several redoubts along the Cubo Line which allowed for cannon batteries to fire northwards toward attacking forces and along the line in the event the enemy got as far as the walls.

the interior of the redoubt, it is unlikely that the original was paved

     Hopefully the annotations are clear enough to give the good reader an idea of where the pictures were taken. If anyone has any questions feel free to send me an email at I have (literally) thousands more photos if you have a detail that needs clarification. I also have several other forts that I have been fortunate enough to visit posted on my Fortified Places tab.


  1. Cool photos!! You weren't joking about lots of pics either!!!!

    1. And I have started to annotate them so they make sense to someone less intimately familiar with the place than I am.

      I do have lots more photos too.........

  2. Cats and dogs living together! You really do like this place. Yowza!

    1. It is kind of neat to place your hand on something that came into existence 300+ years ago

      You have to head back to the ancient Homelands to find stuff like that otherwise

  3. Wonderful tour of the fortress! Reminds me very much of Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, PR.

    1. You wouldn't happen to have photos of that place, it looks amazing on Google Earth and I'm not likely to get there soon

    2. I do have a few photos of the fortress. Let me collect a few of them.

  4. Most interesting! Reminded me a little of this fort:,_Highland

    (If you ever visit the UK, we have some great forts and castles!)