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Can a fortress embrace a city?

San Felipe del Morro Castle in San Juan, Puerto Rico, grew as a fortress in such a way that a massive belt of stonewall remained embracing the ancient city it was protecting.

During the second half of the 16th Century, San Juan became one of the most important sites for the defense of the Spanish Empire and its riches in America.

El Morro is the world's best site to fly kites, "cometas," "papalotes," "barriletes," or "chiringas," as they are called in Puerto Rico.
Thus, in 1539, with the authorization of Carlos I of Spain, the construction of the first defenses in El Morro Bay began.

The construction of the San Felipe del Morro Castle began in 1579. The first blueprints of El Morro date back to 1591, according to information from the Archivo de Indias, and they are sketches from the Spaniard Pedro Salazar, at the service of King Felipe II.

However, the original blueprints are far away from the final result. The structure, with citadel characteristics, was achieved in 1750, when the Italian Military Engineer, John B. Antonelli, took over, under the supervision of the Spanish Architect Juan de Tejada, and had under his command 400 workers, who bit by bit raised the fortress and San Juan's main defensive bastion in the colonial times.

The "500 Years and One Day Concert" was carried out in El Morro in 1993. It included Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, performed by the Symphony Orchestra of Puerto Rico, shellfire by the National Guard Artillery, and the bell-ringing of all the churches in the old inner city.
But the vicissitudes of El Morro and of San Juan did not wait for the completion of the walled structure.

In 1595, Sir Francis Drake, without any success, attacks San Juan from the bay. The artillery in El Morro managed to hit the cabin of the pennant vessel, fending off the pirate's attack.

In 1598, George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, attacks San Juan by land, achieving to siege the city, but not El Morro. After six weeks, the British are forced, by an epidemic, to leave the island.

In 1625, the Dutch, for their part, commanded by Boudewijn Hendricksz, attack, again by land, and take San Juan. The cannons in El Morro force the Dutch to retire, not before sacking and burning down the city.

No matter what kind of chiringa you've got, what's cool is that there are quite a few places to do it like El Morro.
Juan Soto Melendez in "A Volar Chiringas" (Let's Fly Kites,) published in PRIMERA HORA.

Definitely, El Morro effectively accomplished its purpose defending San Juan on the bay side. However, it didn't have the same conclusive force to defend itself from the land attacks until the construction of its walls was over, in 1678.

The defensive structure originally consisted of a simple tower with four cannons and a floating battery, and ended up being a six level fortress rising 45 meters above sea level, with walls up to 4.50 meters thick, countless ramparts, tunnels, passageways, cellars, constructions, and even a chapel that is still preserved in perfect state with its paintings and benches.

For the past fifty years, the honor place of El Morro has been recognized. First in 1949, it is established as the National Historical Area of San Juan. In 1961 the fortifications become part of the National Parks Service to be preserved as museums.

In 1990, American archaeologists were able to find the so called "lost wall" of El Morro, which dates from the beginning of the 16th Century, and confirms information in ancient maps that present a different structure from the original.
In 1983, the area is declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and in 1993 after an intensive restoration, it turned into the center of the festivities honoring the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico.

El Morro is visited by thousands of tourists every year, who after overwhelming stories of sieges, invasions, hand-to-hand battles, pirate assaults against its walls, fire, explosions, and the smell of powder, are surprised with one of the most exquisite views of San Juan, while on the green lawn that surrounds the fortress, families enjoy a bite, children fly their "chiringas" (kites,) and visitors, strolling, pleasantly take Norzagaray street heading Old San Juan, scarcely 10 minutes away.

San Felipe del Morro Castle, the best of the latin spirit.

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