If there’s one word that describes Fort San Felipe del Morro, in San Juan, Puerto Rico it’s awesome! And that’s exactly what the weather was also like this past weekend. It was awesome. So Zoraida and I took to the road to finish this two-part series about the Spanish Forts in Puerto Rico.
Fort San Felipe del Morro is a 6-level military fortification that rises 145 feet above sea level. However, when you first arrive it doesn’t seem tall at all. This is because the entrance to the fort is through a concrete bridge that goes straight into the fifth level.
The purpose of Fort San Felipe del Morro was to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay. And in doing so it also guarded the southern part of the city of San Juan. The eastern side of the city was protected by Fort San Cristobal and the north has so many reefs that trying to land anywhere on that coast would have been pure suicide.
Everything in Fort San Felipe del Morro serves a military purpose; even the things that aren’t so apparent. For example, when you first arrive on El Morro grounds you go across a giant lawn that doesn’t have a single tree. This is called the “glacis”, and the reason why it doesn’t have a single tree is to deny attacking forces of any form of cover.
Then there’s a concrete bridge that enters the fort. In Spanish colonial times this was actually a drawbridge, that when raised offered additional protection for the fort doors.
But wait, there’s more! You will notice that there’s a dry moat that goes around the entire eastern side of the fort. In case of an attack the incoming soldiers would have been forced to lean ladders on the outer side of the moat, climb down those ladders (with their backs towards the fort), cross the moat and then climb up the fort walls. In the meantime there would have been Spanish soldiers with crossbows, cannons, muskets, and anything else they could get their hands on, shooting at them.
From the water it was even worse. First, there would be five levels of pure firepower pointing straight at the bay entrance (that’s where the incoming vessel would be). And on the opposite side was Fort San Juan de la Cruz that would catch them in a crossfire.
Zoraida and I visited El Morro last Saturday and the day was so spectacular that we returned on Sunday just to shoot some additional footage from the old leper hospital on the other side of San Juan Bay.
The view from the other edge was awesome. Especially because we are in November and that’s when the Island is hit by “la marejada de los muertos”. I guess a loose translation for this phenomenon would be the “swell of the dead”. In Spanish tradition November 2nd is called “el día de los muertos” or “the day of the dead” and that’s where these unusually high swells —that generally happen in November— got their name.
It will take you about a couple of hours to explore Fort San Felipe del Morro. Especially if you go up and down all its intricate spiral staircases, tunnels and ramps. The fort is operated by the U.S. National Park Service so there are well trained park rangers that will answer you every question.
There is also a small shop where you can buy everyday souvenirs but you can also acquire actual books about the history of Old San Juan, Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristobal and the history of Puerto Rico in general.
I’ve been visiting both these forts —and Old San Juan in general— since I was a teenager. Then I showed them (repeatedly) to my children. Now the marvels of modern technology are allowing me to show them to you and to the world. And I’m loving every minute of it!
Puerto Rico is a beautiful island with wonderful and welcoming people. Sure, it has its share of crime and trouble, just like any other place in the world. But with a little common sense —and with the information that we provide on Puerto Rico By GPS— you can have a wonderful time.
On our next post we’ll leave Old San Juan behind and show you someplace wonderful outside the San Juan Metroplex. Which one? I honestly don’t know yet. But I’m sure you’re going to love it. That’s a promise!
‘Till next time,
©2013,Orlando Mergal, MA
Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
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