Recalling El Castillo del Moro

This post has been sitting as a draft for almost a year, but the family and l were reminiscing about Puerto Rico and all our adventures there this morning, and I was called to finish it. What a time to recall and post about this incredible castle and fortress in the beautiful and historic Old San Juan.

The scale of El Morro was absolutely stunning and had me in awe from the first view of those deep man-made walls around the tip of the city. I loved walking the lookouts and imagining the whispers of history, the battles, the struggles, loves and hungers. The structure itself is massive, and trying to imagine how it was built in the 16th and 17th centuries with only human bodies boggles the mind. There is a magic about El Morro that you can’t escape, almost like the spirits of the past are guiding you along.

Multiple would-be conquerors tried to take the castle over the centuries: the English in 1595 (led by Sir Frances Drake), the English in 1598 (led by someone named George Clifford, an Earle – he was quickly defeated), the Dutch in 1625 (led by  Boudewijn Hendricksz, who apparently sacked and burned much of the City of San Juan before then being defeated and forced out). Then, in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, United States Navy ships fired on the fortification, destroying the lighthouse (which was later restored). I am guessing that last defeat was the one that lasted. These images tell a far better story than I.

Walking around, I was reminded of how mad we humans are. Most who tried to conquer El Morro had to first survive the crossing of the Atlantic on a (tiny) wooden boat, knowing they would arrive and face no rest, but instead enemy soldiers trying to kill them. Exhausted, they stared down the possibility of a cannonball through the hull that would explode them into the violent sea to drown. All this after a monthslong journey across the sea with countless dangers. Yet, still they came.

Glory, fame and power are strong drugs. Perhaps this is as true today as back when El Morro was being bombarded. Can you imagine yourself making the voyage to take this castle? Would your 17th century self take the risk?

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