Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Visit to St. Augustine, Florida

Some of you may know that I spent the end of last week in Florida. It was an amazing trip. I've never been to Florida before and the weather was just perfect--such a pleasant change from Edmonton! My husband was there for a conference and I went to join him for a few days when it was over.

We had such a great time! We went to Orlando, Palm Beach and St. Augustine. Thursday we went to see Cirque de Soleil perform in downtown Disney. It was absolutely incredible. I've never really seen anything like it before--and it was so different from watching them perform on television. On Friday we drove to St. Augustine to walk around the town and take a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos. Saturday and Sunday were spent in Palm Beach.

St. Augustine was one of my favourite parts of the trip. It was established in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in North America. The city was burned down numerous times--Francis Drake even razed the town to the ground in 1586! The picture at the top of this post is of the Cathedral of St. Augustine. It was constructed between 1793-1797.

The picture on the right was taken at the Castillo de San Marcos. Apparently the Castillo was never taken in battle! They had tons of cannons on the fort, which helps explain why. It's made out of coquina, which is a sort of limestone made up of millions of bits of tiny shells all squished together. Apparently the strange material was actually very good for defending the castle--when it was hit with cannon balls they usually just bounced off! I was a bit surprised at how small the Castillo was, though. I was amazed when they told us the entire town of St. Augustine used to go there to hide when the town was under attack by the British!

One of the Castillo's most interesting bits of history was totally overlooked by our tour guide. Apparently St. Augustine also was home to the first community of free blacks in North America! In 1738, a group of Africans that had fled from slavery in Charleston, S.C., came to St. Augustine. The governor of the territory, Manuel Montiano, gave the people sanctuary and gave them land two miles to the north of St. Augustine to turn into a settlement. This place, called Fort Mose was the first free African community in what later became the United States. There was a caveat, though: these new Floridians needed to swear "to shed their last drop in blood in defense of the Spanish Crown" (source: Florida's Black History). Still a lot better than the lives they were living up north!

It was a fascinating trip. After we finished touring St. Augustine we decided to go swimming in the Atlantic. It was incredible! White sand, warm water...I wish I could be there now!

1 comment:

Julie said...

I can totally tell that you studied history! Joey always laughs at me because whenever we go on a trip I make a point to study as much about our destination as possible. And my favorite places we visit aren't generally beaches but places with a rich past. I'm glad to know I'm not the only tourist/historian out there! Glad you had fun!