St. Augustine Florida is nothing less than beautiful. Settled on the coast of northeastern Florida, the oldest city in America welcomes visitors with a rich history and charming atmosphere. At night, during the holiday season, every building, walkway, lamp post, palm tree, and historic monument in view is outlined or wrapped in strings of brilliant white lights. We approached the glowing historic district by crossing over the famous Bridge of Lions. The illuminated city was an unexpected sight after our drive along the eastern coast that began in Daytona and took us north on Highway A1A. The coastal road rewarded us with ocean views and a brief glimpse of seaside living next to miles and miles of sandy beaches. As we entered St. Augustine we drove through the streets and watched people strolling down the sidewalks, mingling through shops, and enjoying their evening meal.
In the day time, walking along the waterfront, the Bridge of Lions is a distinguishing member of St. Augustine’s unique architecture. It crosses the Matanzas River connecting St. Augustine with Anastasia Island. The bridge is a tribute to Ponce De Leon, the first man to explore the area and claim the region for the Spanish crown in 1513. The name Matanzas derives from a deadly massacre that occurred in the area over four hundred years ago. A massacre that would portend St. Augustine’s turbulent future and constant exchange from one powerful nation to the other.
Another worthy landmark, whose presence cannot be ignored, is the Castillo de San Marcos—the oldest masonry fort in America. The fort was first built by the Spanish to protect their treasure ships from pirates when sailing to and from South America. St. Augustine was a valuable asset to the Spanish crown, and attracted countless attacks from enemy nations. Never once were its thick walls conquered by military aggression. The fortification has exchanged hands five times during its over three hundred-year-old history, and each transfer was made through a peaceful treaty. The fort is just one of many remnants indicating how St. Augustine has been shaped by the numerous flags that have flown over the city’s limits.
The five hundred-year-old city has aged handsomely. Like a priceless antique, the city is distinctly marked by the passing of time, and has survived to become an attractively preserved artifact. Walking around the city’s narrow streets illustrates the lessons learned in history books. With a pleasant semi-tropical climate, elegant architecture, and remnants of historical milestones, St. Augustine held our undivided attention.
HISTORY OF FORT MATANZAS
In 1565, General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles was sent by the Spanish crown to lead his people to Florida’s shores. When Menendez arrived he mistakenly guided his ship through an inlet leading straight to Fort Caroline, a French stronghold built on land claimed by the Spanish. Menendez directed his ships south and establish his people in the place he chose to call St. Augustine.
Within months the French sailed south to attack the Spanish. While sailing to St. Augustine the French were caught in a hurricane that thrust them farther south than they intended. Menendez took advantage of their misfortune, and led his men north by land and attacked Fort Caroline. He killed most of the men that had been left to protect the fort, sparing the women and children. After the fall of Fort Caroline, the shipwrecked Frenchmen were sighted south of St. Augustine with low food supplies, and no way of crossing an inlet blocking their way north. Menendez told the French that Fort Caroline had been captured and gave them the option to surrender, which they did. Menendez chose to spare the Frenchmen who would renounce their Protestant religion and pledge their faith to the Catholic Church. Two hundred and forty-five men were executed while less than two-dozen either surrendered their beliefs, or were found too valuable to kill. Matanzas is the Spanish word for slaughters. It’s the name the Spanish gave to the inlet the French were unable to cross and the river running beside St. Augustine today.
The canyon floor was covered in deep snow. There were areas of open water and then the creek would disappear under layers of snow and ice to appear a ways later. Clues of where its path went while it was not visible...