St. Augustine, Florida

You might think that the oldest masonry fort in America would be somewhere in the Northeast United States, but it’s actually a Spanish fort in Florida: El Castillo de San Marcos, constructed in 1672 to protect the critical Spanish port city of St. Augustine, itself the oldest city in America, dating back to 1565.

St. Augustine, Florida

And what a fort it is!  The Spanish built it out of a local stone called cocina, which is a sedimentary rock made up of compressed seashells.  It was available locally and easier to cut and shape than regular stone, and it turned out to have a unique defensive benefit: when cannonballs hit the fort, they bounced off, rather than absorbing the impact like stone and shattering.

St. Augustine, Florida

Repeated attacks by the British did little to damage the fort, while the defenders would simply bide their time and take carefully aimed shots at the attacking ships.  Unique among forts in the world, El Castillo de San Marcos was never taken by force.  It was transferred to the British in a peace treaty, returned to the Spanish in another agreement only 10 years later, and finally ceded to the United States by Spain in 1821.

The fort has excellent views of the bay, the Bridge of Lions, and the surrounding city.  The rooftop contains a collection of original cannons and mortars, as well as the iconic towers that the Spanish used to watch for approaching enemy ships.

Within the courtyard, you will find historical exhibits, including period cannonballs and docents explaining how people lived during the height of the fort’s use. The surrounding rooms contain films, exhibits and period costumes.  One room has graffiti carved in the walls by Plains Indians who were held prisoners of the US Army in the 1800s, which is a fascinating intersection of history.

St. Augustine, Florida

Definitely don’t miss the re-enactment of cannon firing, performed by volunteers in Spanish army uniforms every hour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  They perform the entire loading, firing and cleaning procedure in Spanish, and actually fire the cannon off (no cannonballs, of course!).  Our boys loved it, and it draws quite a crowd.

St. Augustine, Florida

Admission for Adults aged 16 and up is $10.00 and is valid for 7 consecutive days.  Children under 16 are free.  Open daily from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Visiting the fort is easy, and a short drive from Orlando.  It is located right in downtown St. Augustine, to the north of the Bridge of Lions.  We recommend the public parking right next to the visitor center.  It’s centrally located and reasonably priced. From there, you can explore the Castillo and the Old Town of St. Augustine, which you can read more about here.

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Visiting the Oldest Fort in America

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: A Day Trip to St. Augustine, Florida - Our Family Travel Adventures

  2. The Cocina rock looks remarkable, almost like coarse sponge, or plankton, but the fact it makes up the masonry of a fort that has never been taken by force says it all. It looks very impressive as a fortification that’s for sure 🙂

  3. I love these old relics of ancient history! I really like how they stood through the ages of time and still can teach us something today! This one looks really big!

  4. So much history, your kids must have loved it! Better than sitting in a classroom any day, thanks for sharing!

  5. Very cool fort! I’ve never heard of it, but now I am interested in checking it out. And what a great way to learn about history for the kids!

  6. And I was just in Florida last week, but alas, we could not make the time to get to St. Augustine! I would love to see the town and the fort! Thanks for the post and the pics!

  7. So cool! I find it interesting that the cannons would just bounce off, I wonder if anybody stil uses similar walls for other sorts of protection.

    • Richard Reply

      Cocina is interesting material. Up close it’s sort of like a tightly packed ‘cake’ of small shells, so it can compress and expand a bit. I’ve never seen it anywhere else before, so it might be the only fort in the world built using this material.

  8. How interesting I wouldn’t have thought it would be in Florida and all that history that’s there it’s amazing really. Thanks for sharing

  9. I love catching performance at historic sites! The re-enactment of cannon firing looks like one that can’t be missed! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. St. Augustine is such a fun and historic city. I explored the fort, too, but didn’t have the people in costumes. Darn, I missed it. Nice photos.

  11. I have read so many great attractions to be seen in St. Augustine- now I can add visiting the oldest fort in America to the list too. What a family friendly city. I definitely want to bring the family here.

  12. Old forts are such exciting places to explore with kids. Like yours, our boys always get excited seeing the canon fire.

  13. Loved the fun fact about covina! Had no idea that it had such useful defensive benefits, that’s innovative especially for the time!

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