Castillo tells its own story Saturday

St. Augustine is many things to many people. They view it in various and often very personal ways. But few would argue that the single presence that says “St. Augustine” is our Castillo de San Marcos.


Thousands visit the Spanish fort each year. Its people do a great job of helping these visitors understand just how important it was (and is) in the stories of this special town.

Truth be told — and it always is — the story that’s told understandably revolves around the swashbuckling tales of raiding parties and sieges, pirates, British interlopers — the flashy stuff. If you’ve only got a few minutes to grab attention, this is the way to do it.

But we’d bet that if you were somehow able to spend a day and a night alone in the Castillo, you might wonder how something as grand was built by hand. How did coquina become the basis for its construction and why it stands so tall still today. You might wonder who slept and where they did it. What did they eat? How did they cook? And the central issue — where’s the bathroom?

If yours is among those inquiring minds seeking to know the story behind the story, mark Saturday down on your calendar.

That’s when Florida Living History, Inc. and the National Park Service team up to offer La Fundacion de la Castillo de San Marcos, or the Founding of the Castillo de San Marcos.

This is a commemoration of the founding of the fort, on Oct. 2, 1672.

At 3 p.m. the ghost of General Don Manuel de Cendoya, Royal Governor and Captain-General of Florida, will turn a spade of dirt that began a 23-year odyssey of hard labor and hard times — 345 years later. The Castillo remains today as the oldest masonry and only extant 17th century fortress in the continental U.S.

Prior to the free “ground-breaking “ ceremony at 3 p.m. on the fort green, there will be special demonstrations and historic interpretations of daily life in the fort and town.

These will be offered in different areas of the Castillo beginning at 9 a.m. They are ongoing until 2:45 p.m. — just prior to the ground-breaking.

n Clash of the Empires will explain why the fort was necessary, both in the context of world history and our own.

n Castillo Construction will involve some hands-on coquina work and explanations of how it was quarried, how the fort was built and who built it. It was and is an amazing example of a “star fortress” design — one of many, both prior to it and hence.

n Under the bell will help visitors understand the importance of the religious life of the soldiers here and the townsfolk. The Catholic Church will be on hand with period vestments and a story of a religious struggle that framed the known world and became the basis for the founding of St. Augustine.

n Raised up with Gazpacho, Garlic and Onions is a program interpreting the “Ranchos, Rations and Foodways of 17th Century San Augustin.” The Castillo’s Steve Roberts says the ladies take over here, helping to explain the diet and traditional cuisine that fortified those who fortified the city and its townsfolk.

Admission is the regular $10 for adults. Those age 15 and under are admitted free.

If you go, and if you listen, you’ll learn something important.

The Castillo was more than a fort that never fell to enemies. It was the center of the Spanish universe in the New World. It was the one safe haven against every manner of threat — famine, English sieges, buccaneer raids, sickness, drought, and, yes, even hurricanes.

Some things never change. Some do, in remarkable ways. You can get a glimpse into that past and process Saturday.



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