Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) was built by the Spanish to control the entrance to the Caribbean Sea and the gateway to the New World. During the Age of Discovery, the mouth of the channel into San Juan’s harbor was considered a strategic island for military and economic reasons.
The construction took approximately 250 years to complete. Spain responded to potential and future threats by expanding and improving the fort. This San Juan landmark looks very much like it did at the end of the 18th century. History buffs and people who enjoy exploring fortresses should not miss this one. Children are free to roam and explore.
This fortress sits on headland— a high point of land that juts into the water. El Morro means the headland. This prime location provides excellent photo opportunities.
Across the channel is a sister fort called San Juan de la Cruz. It is located on the end of the Isla de Cabras. The Spanish built this benign looking structure to create a deadly and effective crossfire.
Anyone who remembers Christopher Columbus’s voyages will recall that he discovered this island. He called the island San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist). The name Puerto Rico originally referred to the city and the bay. The names were switched a century later.
In the mid 19th century lighthouses were added to help guide ships. Modern visitors will be drawn to take pictures of them.
The fortress showcases three distinct periods of artillery evolution. In the 18th century, cannons were placed in gun openings or embrasures. Starting in the late 19th century, a semi-circular track of ground bricks was used to support the cannons. Under Spanish rule, cannons were fired at the English, the Dutch, the British and the Americans. During World War II, anti-aircraft guns were positioned on slabs of concrete.
For approximately 400 years, Spain fought hard to control Puerto Rico. They lost control to the US during the Spanish-American War (1898).
During World War I, El Morro was called Fort Brooke. In 1961, the fort became a national historic site under the auspices of the National Park Service.
The National Park System left an open field (esplanade) so that visitors can imagine how the Spanish defenders used the open space to shoot anyone who came to attack them. Today, locals and tourists can enjoy this scenic spot without any fears.
Before You Go
Check the National Park Service website for information about pricing, movies, and tours. Take time to look at the map so that you can plan your route.
On a sunny day, don’t forget to put on sunscreen. It is a good idea to wear comfortable walking shoes, and to bring a hat and sunglasses. An ample supply of water is a necessity, especially if you’re planning to walk between the two fortresses. Castillo San Cristobal is less than a mile away.
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