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Castillo San Felipe del Morro

October 3, 2019

  • 501 Calle Norzagaray
  • San Juan, PR 00901
  • (787) 729-6960
  • Website

Time to do some sightseeing.  The first thing we both wanted to do was check out the historic forts in the Old San Juan area of the city.

We called for an Uber after we got done with our quick breakfast and had him drop us off right at the entrance to the bigger of the two forts…Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro was built beginning in 1539 by Spain.  The Spanish would continue to add on to the fort and the surrounding city all the way up until the Spanish-American ware in 1898 when the United States was ceded control of the fort and the Island to the Americans with the Treaty of Paris.

El Morro sits right on the Atlantic Coast on the Islet of Old San Juan.  There is a really long sidewalk that leads through two large open fields that are apparently a really good place to fly a kite.  Our Uber dropped us off in the roundabout right next to the start of this long walk and we started the hike up the slight hill. 

About halfway up the walk is a memorial for a Dutch Attack on the fort in 1625 known as The Battle of San Juan.  The Dutch burned part of the city and lost 400 men, but eventually had to retreat to their ships.  There are signs like this all over the place that give the history of different parts of this 500 year fort.

The gate to the old fort also doubles as the entrance.  The site is run by the National Park Service and there is a $7 charge to get in.  The good news here is that $7 gets you in to both El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal which is just down the hill.  You just have to show the other fort your receipt.

Once through the gate, you walk in to the Main Plaza which was used to drill soldiers.  There are 11 casemates around the plaza.  In their day, these casemates held cannons and were used for defense.  Today, they have history exhibits and house the fort’s gift shop.

Three flags fly just above the main plaza.  The United States flag, the Puerto Rican Flag, and the Cross of Burgandy Flag which was a Spanish military flag flown at the fort while Spain controlled it.

One of the casemates housed the fort’s church.  It’s pretty easy to spot with the bell hanging above it.

Inside is a simple chapel with a gorgeous tile floor that has seen centuries of people.

The other cool feature on the plaza is the doors on all of the casemates.  Each opening has a huge, thick, heavy wooden door.  Most of them were open so we could go inside but a few appear to be used for storage now.

The fort is multiple levels and all levels are accessible by fairly steep ramps.  They needed to be able to move canons around but we found the ramps difficult to walk up at times…I couldn’t imagine trying to push a cannon up or even worse, down some of these ramps.

In fact, the ramp down to the main firing battery was closed off and we had to take the stairs that ran alongside it.

The main firing battery itself had more stairs and more ramps that led down to another level.  You can see how canon warfare changed over the lifetime of this fort.

In some areas they had stationary canons set up between the large concrete walls that protected the soldiers doing the firing.

In other areas, you can see the half circle tracks made for later canons on wheels that could be re-positioned easily just by pushing it so it would be pointing the direction of the incoming enemy ships.

Right out near the edge of the fort on the point where the Atlantic Ocean meats the Bay of San Juan, something much more modern.  A World War II relic actually.  A large concrete pad that actually held an anti-aircraft gun that was used as a harbor defense system to search for German subs and planes.  There were no conflicts in this area during WW II but the US Military was ready and actually used and staffed the fort in case the war made it this far west.

One of the first things we noticed about this fort when we started to walk up was the lighthouse.   It juts out from the top level of the fort and is painted in a couple different shades of blue.

Unfortunately, this is not original.  The original was built in 1846 but that was destroyed during the Spanish-American war.  The lighthouse was rebuilt then demolished in 1906 due to structural problems.  The lighthouse that is there now as built by the US Military in 1908.

There are many structures in the United States as old as Castillo San Felipe del Morro so it was really cool to spend a couple of hours walking through the historic structure and reading about the history of warfare on the Island.  El Morro is one of the first things you notice about San Juan when you fly in to the city and it should be one of the first “touristy” things you do when you get to town.

 

 

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