If you are taking a trip to San Juan there are two places that are must-sees as far as I am concerned. The first is what is officially the San Juan National Historic Site, part of the U.S. National Parks Service. (The second is Old San Juan but that’s another blog post.)
As you approach El Morro (or Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the main fort of the Site) from the mainland side it is very imposing. Started back in 1539 by the authorization of King Charles V of Spain, the fort has grown over the years. 400 years to be precise. Achieving its final design as you see it today in 1787, the fort is a massive and multi-leveled (6 levels) marvel from an age of no technology and man-made structures. Honestly, can you imagine the building of a completely (what we would call) brick structure of 6 levels without a crane, forklift or any such modern equipment?
Originally the fort, and Puerto Rico, was under Spanish rule and endured many attacks from other foreign forces such as Sir Francis Drake (an Englishman), Boudewijn Hendricksz (a Dutchman) and then the United States Navy. As you might guess the U.S., via the Treaty of Paris, came to rule (if one can say that of the U.S. politics) in 1898. Along with the sister fort, El Canuelo, El Morro protected the entrance to the San Juan bay.
The fort, along with the sister fort, El Canuelo, and the wall surrounding much of the city, lie in the National Park Historic Site as well as also being declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.
The original lighthouse was built in 1843, under the Spanish rule, and replaced in 1908, as seen today, by the U.S. Each level of the fort served its purpose. I particularly thought that the highest level, which houses the jail cells, was the most ingenious level. I can’t imagine being a prisoner in the hot San Juan sun on the top level of the fort.
When you enter the fort you see in front of you the ramp, as I call it, that they would roll the cannons down. It also has steps on each side so that you were able to walk up and down. It is a steep grade and as you exit the tunnel-feeling ramp it opens up to the open level of the fort where the cannon and sentry boxes (garitas) guard the island.
The sentry boxes, also known as garitas, are the dome covered and box-like structures scattered around the open level of the fort. Imagine a native San Juan man standing in the garita watching for any ships that might approach the island. A hot job, to say the least.
Overall, it is a wonderful place to visit with an island climate, a step back into time, and lots of little nooks and crannies to explore!
Part of the “Travel With Me!” series
And for more info on the fort: