The 16th century Fort that saved Puerto Rico

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro is a fort that sits majestically on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico in the capital city of San Juan. The Fort was declared a World Heritage by the UN in 1983 for its historical significance and for the way it was built.
Annually, millions of tourists visit the site to learn about its historical importance in history, but some of these tourists also know that this fort is haunted.

The history of San Juan and its Fort

When explorers arrived in the Americas from Spain, they would settle an area, claiming it for the Spanish empire. Puerto Rico was one of the first islands discovered in the New World by Genoese captain, Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was later settled in 1508 by Juan Ponce de Leon who enslaved the native population of Taino Indians under the repartimiento system in order to extract the gold from the area and establish a gold mining colony.  Disease and famine caused the native population to dwindle drastically and as a result, in 1513 enslaved Africans were brought to the colony to mine and extract the gold under a new less repressive system known as the encomienda system.

Puerto Rico became one of the wealthiest seaports in the Americas, in a few decades. This made it a target for other European nations exploring the ‘New World’. Not only was it a rich seaport but it was also positioned in a strategic location in the Caribbean, hence becoming the most sought-after land. Whoever owned that land would have the best foothold in the entire west. The Spanish government were aware of the situation and how much other nations desired it (including its vulnerability back when they first settled), so they made the city and the coast of Puerto Rico one of the most densely fortified in the region.

The Brits invading Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

The work on Castillo de San Felipe del Morro began in the late 1530s to protect the settlement from enemies and Pirates. The fort was named in honor of Philip II of Spain, but it was Charles V of Spain who ordered engineers Juan de Tejada and Juan Bautista Antonelli to design the fort. Once complete, it had to prove its worth when the British Empire came storming in under the leadership of Sir Francis Drake who was going to attack the stronghold. All they did to fend of this attack and make the enemy retreat was shoot a cannonball at Sir Francis’ ship, forcing the retreat.

The Brits didn’t stop there. They really wanted the land. After Drake’s defeat, George Clifford, the 3rd Earl of Cumberland, invaded Puerto Rico but did not follow Drake’s suit. What George did was order an attack on land, making the overtake successful. Although a short-lived victory. Right after their overtaking, Georges crew fell ill due to the heat in the summer that made the food inedible. All the crewmembers were having severe cases of bloody diarrhea, fever and abdominal pains. To save themselves, they traveled back to Britain, but not before taking everything of worth with them and leveling the town to the ground.

The Dutch invasion of San Juan

Small fun fact to the invasions. While they thought that the looming threat from the Brits was a huge burden for the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, A Boudewijn Hendricksz came surfing the waves with an army to try the same strategy as George’s land tactic. Even though they successfully sacked the city, they were unable to take it over completely, thanks to the fort. Defeated, they retreated with the small victory. At least they won the battle, right?

The United States of America

What the Brits and the Dutch couldn’t do, the U.S. government in its early days decided to show the other countries how it was done. During the Spanish-American War, U.S. forces were the first successful foreign invader to take over the fort and during the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico and several other islands were turned over to the United States.

Ghosts taking over El Morro

The US might have been the only successful invader to take over the Fort but according to Legend, several ghosts have made the fort their home also.
One such ghost that seems to be famous at the fort is the ghost known as the lady in white. This apparition is usually seen near a lighthouse known as La Garita del Diablo (or the Devil’s Watchtower). Her apparition is usually seen floating along the ramparts.

Another legend is the legend of the ghost soldier that vanished. When Spanish soldiers manned the fort, they would call out the words “Alerta”, which was their way of making sure that the soldiers were awake and watching over the fort. When one soldier didn’t hear a response, he went into the Garita (watchtower) to check on the soldier that was supposed to be stationed there. Upon arrival, the room was empty. The missing ghost soldier still haunts the fort to this day.

Apart from a ghost or two, some say that they can hear footsteps of soldiers, floating yellow orbs or wailing sounds. Some have even reported feeling dizzy or queasy in certain areas near the fort. Whether visiting for historical reasons or to exploer the paranormal, Castillo de San Felipe del Morro remains one of the marvels of the Americas linking the architecture of old medieval Spain to the modern world.

Karl Gustav