Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fort Matanzas - The Other Guardian of St. Augustine

Untold numbers of people have explored the historic stone walls and ramparts of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine over the years, but fewer are aware that another old Spanish fort also stands on the banks of the Matanzas River south of the city.

Fort Matanzas National Monument preserves the unique old structure built by the Spanish in 1740-1742 to guard the southern approaches to St. Augustine. Measuring 50 feet on each side with a 30 foot tower, all built of native coquina stone, it is one of America's most unique forts.

Located on an island near the mouth of the river, the fort is accessible by National Park Service tour boats that cross the river from the visitor center of the park throughout the day during good weather. It is a short voyage well worth taking.

Once on the island, visitors can explore the old fort and even climb up to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the coastal area.

Fort Matanzas fired its cannon only once in anger, when a British force led by Gen. James Oglethorpe arrived off Matanzas Inlet just after the completion of the fort in 1742. The Spanish artillerymen opened fire on a boat party led by Oglethorpe, but in a unique display of the chivalry of the day, stopped firing after it became apparent that the British boats were in danger of sinking. Oglethorpe retreated to his ships and with just a few shots, the fort had proved itself worth the cost of its construction.

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