San Juan’s fortifications

Early one morning of our stay, I headed out toward Castillo San Felipe del Morro for some fresh air and to see the fortification without the hordes of other tourists.  This fort was built in the late 1500s to guard San Juan Bay.  It was a perfect morning for exploring this area – not a cloud in the sky and the heat of the day ahead hadn’t yet arrived.  One of the first striking features is the lighthouse, a recent addition to the fort in the early 1900s

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Walking away from the fort, you next encounter the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.  This cemetery, dating back to the early 1860s is perched high above the Atlantic Ocean.  There are about a thousand graves located here:

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

The cemetery was placed here because of spiritual beliefs present in Puerto Rico.  The cemetery’s location close to the water was believed to allow spirits better access to an afterlife.  It was also located here to keep the deceased as separated as possible from those remaining alive.  Many of the graves are very ornate reflecting family’s desires to make their departed’s cross over to the afterlife easier:

Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery

On the last full day of our stay in Puerto Rico, we headed to the Castillo de San Cristóbal.  Only about a 10 minute walk away from the other fortification, we were excited to tour this one in detail.  Here we are with Castillo de San Cristóbal behind us:

About to enter Castillo de San Cristóbal

Castillo de San Cristóbal was built in the later 1700s and was the largest Spanish fortification built in the New World.  It’s an impressive fortification.  I was taken with the sentry stations that ring both this fort as well as Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  Here’s the most famous of them – the “Devil’s Guerite”:

Castillo de San Cristóbal

From inside Castillo de San Cristóbal you are afforded a spectacular view of Castillo San Felipe del Morro at the other end of Old San Juan:

Coastline and Castillo San Felipe del Morro

I took a lot of pictures of the sentry stations (or guerites in Spanish).  The picture above was taken from this guerite high above the fort.  An amazing lookout for defensive purposes, now they provide tourists with views up and down the rocky coast line:

Lookout at Castillo de San Cristóbal

Aside from the striking coastal views, the far end of the fort provides a prime lookout over the Puerto Rican Capitol Building that is located just outside of Old San Juan:

Puerto Rican Capitol Building

We spent some time wandering inside the fort, especially toward the end that stretched right to the limits of Old San Juan.  I couldn’t help but feel like this fort had a lot in common with the Halifax Citadel in my hometown.  Somewhat contemporaries, there are some striking similarities:

Inside Castillo de San Cristóbal

The walls inside the fort have a mass and permanence that reminds you of their importance in defending this part of Puerto Rico.  More than 200 years later, they portray a weathered beauty that I’m glad I got to experience:

Inside Castillo de San Cristóbal


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