Monday, August 23, 2010

St. Augustine at a glance

I can't possibly do the oldest continuously occupied European city and port in the United States any justice without starting from the beginning... 

The vicinity of St. Augustine was first explored by Ponce de Leon although it seems that "exploration" mostly amounted to his waving as he floated past the shores of Northern Florida. Here he stands, apparently still in search of his Fountain of Youth. The one he found (at least according to local legend) not far from this statue was worthless since he did in fact die.
So Ponce de Leon found Florida... or at least saw it first and then went on his way but the French thought they'd give it a go. They were not terribly successful as the Florida coast was a wild and mosquito infested area. But when it became a hideout for pirates who then attacked Spanish ships along the Caribbean, the Spanish began to take notice. That's when Pedro Menendez de Aviles headed for the Florida coast and spotted land on August 28, 1565. As this fell on the feast day of Augustine of Hippo, he decided the area was to be dubbed San Augustin (and only later to be called St. Augustine.) and his little flag was quickly planted...

Of course the settlement was not a Garden of Eden with paradisaical inhabitants in spite of their tropical surroundings. I mean how could it be when the English and French were also on the lookout for new territories? After being attacked (and not for the first time) and plundered by Robert Searle in 1672, The Spanish decided to get serious about fortification and began building the Castillo de San Marcos.
The Castillo is a star fort made of a stone called a coquina, spanish for "little shells". According to Wikipedia, the workers who built the fort and made the stone were brought in from Havana, Cuba along with some native americans for a little local color. 
Construction began in 1672 and lasted 23 years and was completed in 1695. I personally complain when a road project takes more than 6 months. I cannot imagine a project taking 20 years.
The fort is obviously strong and well designed. The first attack was in 1670 when  the English attacked. For two months the city's citizens were protected within the walls of the fort. The coquina held fast against the the onslaught and eventually reinforcements finally showed up to chase the attackers off. The Brits burned their ships and set fire to the empty St. Augustine as they marched overland to Carolina. 
I think it's cool that we can still explore the inside of this fort, walk on it's walls, the cannons are still in place... About ten years ago a building was built along the main drag here in Denver. It was a fabulous new building called the Beauvallon that was all the rage. It was part residential, part commercial and was supposed to be the beginnings of a major upgrade to that part of the city. Two years ago the building began crumbling- really crumbling- and is now under constuction, again. According to one resident the owner was sued and had to pay out pretty heftily, which is good but the long and short if it is that in 1568 we apparently had better technology than we do today. We could build a fort that would withstand a British assault with cannons and still handles crowds of tourists each day over 450 years later. Today we can't build a building that can withstand a few years of Colorado winters. And we don't even have hurricanes or earthquakes.   
The Parish of St. Augustine dates back to September 8, 1565. Plagued by financial difficulties it wasn't until later that this coquina structure was built. Begun in 1793 it was completed in 1795. It became a cathedral when St. Augustine was elevated to the status of diocese. I had no idea that a building's connection to a future saint could make a building a cathedral...    
I didn't get close enough to read what this building actually was, but it was so lovely that I took the picture anyway. Someday I will go back and get another look at it. It is a church, I'm fairly sure of that though...
This is "an original Minorcan house" constructed of coquina stone

(and since I took that closeup of it you know what that is now) and built in 1807. I don't think we have any houses built in Denver in 1807.

The oldest street in St. Augustine. And they are fixing it. Not tearing it up to put in cement.
This is the former Alcazar Hotel built by Henry Flagler and sits across the street from the Ponce de Leon Hotel which now houses Flagler college (partially pictured below). It is now the Lightner museum and is a museum of antiquities. The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designed in the Spanish Renaissance Style in 1887 by architects Carrere and Hastings.
Flagler College (Doesn't this look like a stole it from the internet? Nope I took it) is now a four year liberal arts college and has the arcane rule that the boys and girls cannot be in each other's living quarters. While it sounds quaint and protective when you read it here, I can just imagine the draconian punishment for the rule breakers.

The Bridge of Lions: a bascule bridge which first connected downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Waterway in 1927. Lions made of marble once guarded the bridge but are currently under repair or maybe they were there, I can't remember...

Another lovely house that had Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

Built in 1874, the lighthouse is on the north end of Anastasia island. It was the first lighthouse established in Florida and according to some archival records it may have been placed on the site of a watchtower that had been built by the Spaniards as early as the late 16th century.  

 I have lots more pictures of the lighthouse and will post them another day but as I was noting the historic sites of St. Augustine at a glance, I wanted to include the lighthouse.

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