Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

A.K.A. El Morro
Part of the San Juan National Historic Site

One of the oldest fortresses this side of the planet (besides the Ozama Fortress, which was built in 1502, and perhaps a couple of others), located in historic San Juan, Puerto Rico. Morro translates from Spanish to mean promontory. The fortress first appeared as a few harbor defenses in 1539, with most of the design and construction actually being done by the Spanish around 1587-1589.

As it was considered a valuable asset for a number of reasons, everybody wanted a piece of Puerto Rico. Sir Francis Drake was the first to attempt to take it from the Spaniards in 1595, but he failed. The English did manage to take El Morro in 1598 (the only time it ever happened), but dysentery weakened them to the point that they had to withdraw from the fortress. The Dutch had a shot in 1625, but failed to take the fortress. It wasn't until the Spanish-American War that Puerto Rico was finally taken by the U.S. Army, which occupied the fortresses of San Juan from 1898 until 1961. At that point, the fortresses were handed over to the National Park Service for restoration and use as museums. Much work has been done to the fortress to give it that sixteenth century ambiance, the most notable of these projects being the removal of all modern roadways and parking lots. Also, I might add, the stench has not been removed from the dungeon.

We've visited the fortress several times, whenever we traveled down there to visit my family. We'd find parking blocks and blocks away and slowly meander at Grandpa's pace through historic Old San Juan, past the old taverns and cafes and tourist shops and gardens. My sister and I would run up the road to the gate as fast as we could, my grandfather not trying too hard to keep up. You have to cross a large field to get to El Morro; the Spanish army used to train and drill their troops on that field.

Across the moat (which is dry), through two ancient gates and to the left is the chapel, restored to resemble it's original construction. I believe they still hold mass there on occasion. There's a large well in the center of the plaza where all the souvenir shops were installed; someone had told me there were huge reservoirs under the fort so the soldiers would have a water supply if they were under attack.

We'd clamber down the ramp to the battery and gape at the cannon still atop the wall, still ready for intruders. Openings in the wall for archers. And a magnificent view of the ocean, all around. We were children; it was more history than I could ever comprehend. I just wanted to touch everything.

There's always tours going on, always goofy looking people wandering around with their funny looking t-shirts and cameras. The tours always include a trip to the dungeon, although only half the visitors end up going down there because the smell assaults you standing up in the open air. Tell you the truth, I was scared to death. What if they had skeletons and stuff down there and they went all Night of the Living Dead on me?

A few scraps and orments of old travel brochures

A submission for the U.S. National Parks and Monuments quest.

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