This massive fortification “Castillo de San Felipe Del Morro” means “Castle of St. Philip of the Headland.” Named for the patron Saint of Spain’s King Philip 11. It is the oldest of two great forts that anchored the sea and landward defenses of San Juan.
The second fort San Cristobal which lies just southeast of here was the primary defense from land.
The fort construction began in 1539 with the building of a round tower made of stone and resembling the chess piece known as a “rook”. El Morro slowly evolved to it’s present shape from 1539 until 1786. Approaching El Morro from the land side , one can’t help but notice how low to the ground it is constructed, this was done to offer as small a target as possible to attacking forces.
That fact , along with the moat made it extremely difficult to scale the walls of the fort.
El Morro was the first line of defense for San Juan, batteries of cannon on four of six levels were deadly deterrents to enemy warships.
The sixth level of guns pointed landward to protect the fort from attack by land. A wood drawbridge spanned the moat and beyond that was a cleared plain so that attacking forces would have no cover. All the gunpowder was hidden underground so as to prevent the invaders from blowing up the ammunition.
The fort was an important line of defense for several hundred years as it protected Puerto Rico from invasions from the French, English, pirates and others until the Spanish American War when possession was given to the United States following Spain’s defeat in that war. after which time it was an important line of defense for protecting the Panama Canal in World War 1 and 2.
Today , The San Juan National Historic Site is managed by The National Park Service. These weathered battlements, so important in protecting Puerto Rico from enemy occupation , are important landmarks in the historical and cultural heritage of not only the island but the whole Western Hemisphere.