|Travel and tourism throughout Latin America.||El
days El Morro is
one of Puerto Rico’s most popular tourist destinations, but there
was a time when it was a vital part of Spain’s defenses in the
It wasn’t long after Christopher Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain that most of the gold had been removed from the island and the Spanish government realized that Puerto Rico was not economically important to them. Its greater importance stemmed from its strategic value.
Ships loaded with gold and treasures from Mexico and South America regularly passed through Puerto Rico on their way across the ocean, carrying the riches to Spain. Pirates looking for a piece of the action constantly raided the ships. Foreign governments also recognized Puerto Rico’s strategic importance, and that it would be a prime location to intercept ships traveling from the Americas to Spain.
In 1539 the construction of the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) was ordered to protect Spain’s interests in the New World. The round tower that was the original fort can still be seen today in the lower levels of El Morro. Over the years more walls and gun batteries were added, and by the late 18th century the fort had taken the shape that we see today. Six levels rise 140 feet above the sea, encased in walls that are 18 feet thick (yes, feet).
In 1595 an attack was made on El Morro by the fleet of Sir Francis Drake, a hero of England’s successful battle against the Spanish Armada in Europe. They were turned back by Spanish troops. Three years later an English fleet commanded by the Earl of Cumberland attacked Puerto Rico. Though they took the city of San Juan, they could not take El Morro, and the Spanish retreated behind its walls. Two months later the English, who had suffered many losses to dysentery, pulled out of Puerto Rico. In 1625 the Dutch laid siege to the city. Once again, the Spanish were able fight off the invaders, and prevent them from taking El Morro. In 1797 an English fleet led by Sir Ralph Abercrombie blockaded San Juan’s port, but quit the area a few weeks later. The commander claimed he had not anticipated the strength of the well-protected garrison or its powerful weapons. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, U.S. ships fired upon the fort. At the end of that war, Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States as a condition of the Treaty of Paris. In 1939, with World War II raging in Europe, anti-aircraft defenses were put in place at El Morro – the last time the fort was used for military purposes.
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