El Morro: Castle Ruins Of Puerto Rico

By Alice Chen on August 7 2020 in History

Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Image credit: Frederick Millett/Shutterstock
Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Image credit: Frederick Millett/Shutterstock
  • El Morro is Puerto Rico's most popular historic site.
  • It is is a large fortress that dates back to the 16th century.
  • El Morro was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Scattered across many countrysides and sprawling masses of land across the world are the remnants of ages long past. These can be architectural ruins, old buildings, and other more mysterious outcroppings like Stonehenge.

One particular asset stands out in Puerto Rico for its strong reputation and the rich background it brings with it. This building is called Castillo San Felipe del Morro, though it is more often referred to as El Morro, and is a fortified castle built in San Juan that dates all the way back to the 16th century when the country was still under strong Spanish rule. As of 1983, the site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning that the World Heritage Committee has recognized it as a site of Outstanding Universal Value, with special importance for everyone and which represents unique cultural or natural heritage. So, what exactly is the history of these castle ruins known as El Morro?

History

This building is a beautiful structure situated in a scenic location. The Spanish began construction of the castle in 1539, but it would take more than 200 years to fully complete. Even in its unfinished state, however, it was an important bulwark in repelling naval invaders, and not once in its history did a single naval attack manage to break its defences. It fell only one time, to England's George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland who took the structure by a land invasion in 1598. Its military significance and strategic location would help it continue to play a role in the 20th century when it was used by the US to track the movements of German subs in the Caribbean.   

El Morro, Puerto Rico. Image credit: Kamira/Shutterstock

Location 

This picturesque and iconic structure is located facing the Atlantic Ocean, specifically situated in what is now known as Old San Juan, the capital city's most storied district. It is specially built at the entrance of the Bay of San Juan, marking its importance as a critical fortification for protecting the once Spanish-owned colony. The castle itself has been under attack many times, even by the well-regarded seaman Sir Francis Drake. 

What Is It Used For Now?

Nowadays the structure is no longer used for its original purpose of military concentration and defence. Since being officially named a historic site it has moved more into the realm of entertainment, with the fortification and its expansive open areas being used for a variety of events, including concerts and other musical performers. Now, it is transformed into a premier destination for visitors, students, and tourists who want to glimpse its beautiful vistas and its historic elements. In fact, on most sunny and warm days, families can be spotted flying kites and playing with their children in the ruins of this once mighty military base. 

More in History