Spanish St. Augustine
Spanish St. Augustine
Florida. Founded on the northern Atlantic coast of Florida in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, San Agustín de la Florida was the first Spanish settlement and the oldest European city in the United States. As the capital of Spain’s colony of Florida for more than 250 years, the city was the site of important military fortifications. The colony had an adventurous history. In 1763 Florida became the property of England, passing back to Spain in 1783, to be ceded to the United States in 1819. The Spanish colonial city was loosely organized into a grid of streets centered on a main plaza, a type of urban planning popular in sixteenth-century Spain, with its roots in ancient Rome. The Spanish relocated the city twice, in 1566 and in 1572, and in the seventeenth century its population grew dramatically.
Castle of St. Mark. Because of its position on the coast, the city required fortifications to protect it from British pirates and military attacks. The Spanish fortress Castillo de San Marcos (Castle of St. Mark), which was moved and rebuilt on three separate occasions (1572, 1595, and 1672), is truly unique in the history of architecture. The 1672 fortification visible today was the only city structure to survive a devastating fire in 1702. Attributed to the Cuban military engineers Juan Siscara and Ignacio Daza, it was built entirely of local shell limestone. Although parts of the star-shaped structure were still under construction as late as 1756, most of the fortification was built between 1672 and 1687. The fortress features triangular bastions, a form invented in sixteenth-century Italy by Antonio and Giuliano Sangallo and perfected in the seventeenth century by the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, whose influence can be seen in the structure. The fortress is a rare example of a masonry fortress. Because most stone fortresses shatter when hit by cannon fire, many fortresses were built of earth works. What is unusual here is the soft limestone used in the fortress’s construction. When struck by cannon fire, it did not shatter. Cannon balls seemed to bounce right off. As the oldest stone fortress in the United States, the Castillo is an enduring monument to the Spanish presence in Florida. Whereas the various northern Florida missions collapsed in the years 1680 to 1706, St. Augustine’s fortifications still stand today, having withstood three British sieges in 1702, 1728, and 1740.
Marcus Whiffen and Frederick Koeper, American Architecture, 1607–1860, volume 1 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).