The history of Saint Augustine, or ‘San Agustín’ in Spanish, should be explained taking into consideration the Spanish influence in the city. In fact, it is considered one of the oldest cities of the United States.
Saint Augustine was founded with the arrival of the first Spanish explores, who transformed this part of the today’s Florida into a key settlement for their dominance of the Atlantic. Nowadays, this city is one of the state’s main tourist attractions due to its cobblestone streets and fairy-tale houses. It was once, and still is in some ways, a part of Spain in this southern territory.
The first time that Juan Ponce de León and Figeroa saw this land, now Florida, was near the mouth of the St. Johns river, and it was during the flowering period, hence the name given. Although Ponce de León did not stay a long time in American lands, King Philip II did consider important to control this territory where a colony of French Huguenots had settled. Thus, fifty years later, another expedition landed in the area. It was in 1565 and this time Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was in command. The Asturian sailor travelled along the coast until he reached the French army, attacked the colony, destroyed it and claimed Florida for Spain.
From this settlement that followed, St. Augustine was founded in the northeast of a key peninsula for the Spanish crown. As many Spanish explorers were finding treasure in Mexican territory, it soon became essential to control the gulf they had to cross back to the homeland.
St. Augustine was under Spanish control for three centuries, which were not particularly peaceful. The city was constantly attacked and plundered by pirates. In fact, the famous Francis Drake was responsible for one of the fires that destroyed the city. St. Augustine still preserves much of the essence of that old world, but it is not possible to find buildings from before the 18th century because they were destroyed in these attacks.
From the 18th century, Saint Augustine had many different problems with pirates. When England defeated Spain in the Seven Years’ War, Florida was one of its rewards. In fact, during the American Revolution in the mid-century, St. Augustine remained loyal to the English crown. However, American independence from the British did not bring peace: less than a century later, Civil War split the country in two. All of Florida was part of the Confederates.
When the Confederate army was defeated, the today’s United States was gradually being shaped. Once the peace arrived, Saint Augustine became as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the south of the country. Its enviable natural surroundings still offer traces of the Spanish, who played a key role in the first centuries of its history.
This journey should begin at the castle of Saint Marcos, which was a fortress as well as a prison. The Cruz de Borgoña (the Cross of Burgundy) could be seen in its walls yet, an insignia linked to the history of Spain. Its building began in 1672, but it was not until twenty years later that it became ready for use. It was a reaction to the pirates who caused so many difficulties for the Spaniards who controlled the city. Its construction improved defensive capabilities. In fact, English troops laid siege to it in 1702 for fifty days without victory. They were unable to conquer the castle but, once again, the town was sacked and burned.
The streets that were once destroyed are now known by many familiar names: Costa Brava, Cádiz, or Granada can be read on the street map. Also, Avilés, in honour of the explorer who promoted the city and who also has a sculpture in homage to him. Ponce de León also has his own statue. Different surnames of Spanish origin can be read on the different coats of arms that are preserved in the houses, many of which are clearly Spanish-inspired.
Its relation with Avilés has a significant role in this city. San Agustín has a replica of a popular fountain in the Asturian city, known as the ‘Caños de San Francisco’ fountain. In San Agustín it is known as “the face fountain”. There are also more details related to water and northern Spain: the city’s river is called San Sebastián.
Another curious fact is that this city has one of the few monuments dedicated to ‘La Pepa’ as the Spanish Constitution of 1812 is known in that country, that are preserved in America. Most of them were destroyed by orders of Ferdinand VII. As you can see, discovering San Agustín is closely related to discovering the world that Spain contributed to create it in a good as well as in a bad way.
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