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Puerto Rico: Fort San Felipe del Morro

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Fort San Felipe del Morro | Puerto Rico | Americas

[Visited: October 2011]

We had a lengthy layover in Puerto Rico between connecting flights, and decided to explore the colonial area of San Juan. Our cordial cab driver was trying to make us see as much as possible in just four hours, but when we left the car behind and saw the extensive area of the San Felipe del Morro fort on the promontory, on the western side of the city, we decided to take our time and not rush things. A wide, grassy area stretched out before our eyes, and at the far end, we could see the fortress lying comfortably on the entire width of the promontory on which it is built. When we got closer, we were surprised at the well-preserved state of the fort, the second UNESCO World Heritage site of the kind we saw during our visit to the East Caribbean.

Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): View of the entrance to the Fort San Felipe del Morro seen from above

All around the fort, you can easily see the elegant garitas, or parapets, in which guards once kept an eye open towards the sea from which most attackers would arrive. They have even become a symbol for the entire country. After crossing the arched entrance way and passing through the gate, we explored at ease the central square with its brightly coloured yellow-and-white walls, walking up, and then down, the six levels of which this fort exists. Chasing down one of the iguanas on the walls, I realized that they were indeed very thick, up to 6 metres. San Juan being a crucial stage in the Spanish colonial empire, or the Key to the Antilles as the Spanish royals called it, no effort was spared to make this stronghold reliable against any invader. Built in the 16th century and named after King Philips II, it survived attacks by English and Dutch invaders, among others. The fort continued to have a military function into the Second World War when the Americans used it against the Germans. The bunker they built on top of the fort can still be seen and has become part of the fort.

Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Looking at the thick defensive walls of the Fort San Felipe del Morro from above

The foundations of the fort as we see it today, were laid in the late 16th century, along the lines of Spanish forts constructed in that era. Even after the many attacks it had to endure during its lifetime, it struck me that the fort looked very well preserved, with most of its walls intact, many cannons in place, piles of cannon balls in several places. Exploring the fort is fun, as you can take steep triangular stairs in some parts, through the dark bowels of the fort, to other levels. Moreover, the views over the city and the surrounding sea are bound to be good, thanks to the strategic location of the fort. In the end, we enjoyed our visit to the fort so much, that we had almost no time left to see the colonial town itself. It was well worth it: the Fort San Felipe del Morro, with its massive walls rising from the sea around it with the slender sentry boxes seemingly hanging above the waves, was much bigger and more interesting than we had anticipated.

Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Walkway leading to the only entrance to the Fort San Felipe del Morro
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): These thick walls defended the fortress against invaders from the sea
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Garita or parapet: the fort has many of them
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Guard house at the entrance of the Fort San Felipe del Morro with a lighthouse in the background
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Interior view of the Fort San Felipe del Morro with arched doorways
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Enormous wall giving the Fort San Felipe del Morro a solid appearance
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Details of the Fort San Felipe del Morro
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Parapet of the Fort San Felipe del Morro above the sea
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): View from the upper floor of the Fort San Felipe del Morro
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): White arches on a yellow wall in the central square of the fort
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): The entryway is the only entrance to the fort of San Felipe del Morro
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): View over the north coast of San Juan from the fort San Felipe del Morro
Picture of Fort San Felipe del Morro (Puerto Rico): Looking down on the central plaza from a higher level of the fort

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