El Morro Fortress – The Defender of San Juan
In August of 1492 Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer under the sponsorship of the Crown of Castile, set off to discover the new world. Columbus undertook four voyages in total, each time discovering new sections of the Americas. On his second voyage, he discovered the lower half of the Caribbean and what would become one of the most important islands in the Age of Exploration, Puerto Rico. As the European voyages became more frequent and their understanding of the area more succinct, the island of Puerto Rico became the first and last port of call for ships crossing the Atlantic back and forth from Europe. As such, the Spanish conquistadors held the island in high regard and it didn’t take long for a permanent garrison to be stationed there.
Puerto Rico’s rocky northern coastline can be somewhat treacherous when trying to land a large wooden ship! The sheltered San Juan Bay provided the Spanish forces with the calm waters needed to dock their vessels and so the bay became of vital importance. Named in honour of King Philip II of Spain, Castillo San Felipe del Morro also called El Morro Fortress was built in 1539 and today is one of the most famous historic sites in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. This incredible structure is a UNESCO World Heritage site and part of the San Juan National Historic Site, which also contains the city walls and various other fortified structures. Given that this beautiful Caribbean island is a United States territory, the site is also part of the United States Park Service and is extremely well maintained, making it an absolute pleasure to visit.
Over two million people visit this site annually and your trip to the El Morro Fortress will begin with a short movie pertaining to the history of the citadel. After the movie, you can either join a guided tour or explore it yourself by using a map provided upon entering the fortress. A walk alone will give you the time and opportunity to visualize those days when the fortress was full of soldiers, either relaxing or nervously awaiting the attack of their enemies. Its Garitas or sentry boxes are dotted all around the outer walls of the fort and provide a spectacular view of San Juan Bay; in the distant past these posts would have been manned by sentries, watching out for any unfamiliar vessels.
Three flags are flown over El Morro, the United States flag, the Puerto Rican flag and the Cross of Burgundy flag, which symbolize these countries contribution to El Morro’s past and present. At the entrance to the fort there is a long concrete bridge, however back when the fort was being used this would have been a large wooden draw-bridge positioned over the moat that surrounds the main portion of the structure. Before you leave, explore the Cannon Water Battery where some of the remaining cannons are still displayed and where you can revel in the beautiful seascape of the ocean and the harbour.