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San Juan’s Picturesque (and Haunted) Forts

Bird's Eye Map View of El Morro and San Cristobal
Bird’s eye view of El Morro and San Cristobal and the city both were built to defend and protect.

On February 16, 2014, we took our 9th cruise, which sailed from San Juan, Puerto Rico. We had a couple of days to explore San Juan and the nearby El Yunque rainforest. I’ll be writing more about both. This post, however, is dedicated to San Juan’s beautiful forts: Castillo San Felipe del Morro (aka El Morro) and Castillo San Cristobal.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Castillo San Felipe del Morro and its Esplanade stretching before it.
The Castillo de San Cristobal.
The Castillo San Cristobal

I haven’t visited every fort there is, but I’ve visited my fair share. These two definitely rank as the most picturesque I’ve had the pleasure of touring.

In the past couple of years my husband’s job has required him to spend some time in Puerto Rico. It never worked out for me to join him, but that was okay. He got a chance to explore a little bit, which worked perfectly for this trip. He knew exactly where to take me.

He was particularly excited to show me the Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

“I just know you’re going to love the cemetery.”

That piqued my curiosity. He’s not usually game on cemeteries, even though he knows I like to take pictures of them to post here and on HJ’s Facebook page. But he had high praise for this one. Hmmm….

GO FLY A KITE

The first thing that took my breath away was del Morro’s Esplanade. We visited on a Sunday afternoon. It’s spacious green grass and sea breezes  presented an inviting spot for families to picnic and fly kites.

Kite Flying at del Morro
Perfect kite flying spot
Scuba Diver in the Sky
Scuba Diver in the Sky (with shark in pursuit)
Scuba Kite with Old San Juan Backdrop
Scuba Diver Kite with Old San Juan Backdrop

Below is a little video I took of three of the four of my favorite kites from that day. (I have a special affinity for hearts and turtles, but the octopus and scuba diver kites also enchanted me.)

CEMETERY BY THE SEA

Before heading into the fort proper, my husband guided us across the field of kite flyers to the cemetery. Words fail me. Instead, I tried to let my camera do the talking.

Top of El Morro Mausoleum
Top of El Morro Mausoleum – We peered through the wall’s slats to view the cemetery nestled by the sea below
Mausoleum with El Morro Lighthouse in background
Mausoleum with El Morro Lighthouse in background
Graves with a sea view
Graves with a sea view
There were two sides to the cemetery. This angel was on a tomb on the other side.
There were two sides to the cemetery. This angel was on a tomb on the other side.

Two words sum up my feelings of this wonderful cemetery by the sea: hauntingly beautiful.

INSIDE EL MORRO

Next, we ventured inside.

San Juan National Historical Site sign

Wayne giving the thumbs up to the free admission day, courtesy of President's Day Weekend.
Wayne giving the thumbs up to the free admission day, courtesy of President’s Day Weekend.
Entrance into El Morro
Entrance into El Morro
Example of a window within the fort's walls
Example of a window within the fort’s walls
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A soldier’s drum now rests on display within one of the living quarter’s areas.
Where the soldiers laid their heads to rest after a hard day's work.
Where the soldiers laid their heads to rest after a hard day’s work.
Doorway in El Morro's Living Quarters
Example of the living quarter’s doorway architecture inside El Morro.
Main Plaza within El Morro
Main Plaza within El Morro

 

What sorts of things did this cart used to haul? Ammunition? Food? Other supplies?
What sorts of things did this cart used to haul? Ammunition? Food? Other supplies?
El Morro Ramp
El Morro’s covered stone stairs led down to the Lower Plaza…and created a spectacular sight on the descent.
Looking down on El Morro's Lower Plaza
Looking down on El Morro’s Lower Plaza
Stairs between El Morro's Lower and Main Plazas
Stairs between El Morro’s Lower and Main Plazas
It's easy to see from these high walls rising about the Lower Plaza why this fort was such an effective fortification.
It’s easy to see from these high walls rising about the Lower Plaza why this fort was such an effective fortification.
Casemates at El Morro
Casemates at El Morro
Sea from El Morro
View of the sea from El Morro’s Lower Plaza area
Del Morro's Rocky Shores
The natural landscape also aided El Morro’s defenses, like this rocky shore surrounding the fort.
One of El Morro's interesting architectural nuances.
One of El Morro’s interesting architectural nuances.
An intriguing passageway with a staircase to explore.
An intriguing passageway with a staircase to explore.
Triangular Staircase
This is why they call it a Triangular Staircase…it really is!
Guard tower at El Morro
Guard tower at El Morro
El Morro Lighthouse
El Morro Lighthouse

WHERE ARE THE GHOSTS?

You can’t help but feel the ghosts of people past when visiting a structure like El Morro. We didn’t see any the day we visited, though.

According to About.com’s Ghosts of San Juan article, several are said to inhabit the fort. Such as a white lady who’s been spotted on the ramparts and the obligatory ghost soldiers perhaps still on duty in their afterlife.

But what about the haunted turret I’d heard about? The one where guards had been reported to disappear from at night? Was it one of El Morro’s turrets?

Nope. That exists near (but not within the property) of San Juan’s other fort: Castillo San Cristobal.

San Cristobal is the site of a tragic love story, though, one that’s sad to have resulted in some ghosts. In the 1700s the daughter of San Juan’s executioner fell in love with a rogue. He was caught and hung. She saw it, and, distraught, hung herself next to him. It’s said when her father came to take down her lover’s body, he saw his daughter’s body and dropped dead instantly.

Maria, the executioner’s daughter, and Betancourt, her rogue lover, are now said to wander San Cristobal’s grounds.

CASTILLO SAN CRISTOBAL

Castillo de San Cristobal Entrance
Castillo San Cristobal Visitor Center Entrance
To Castillo San Cristobal's Main Plaza
To Castillo San Cristobal’s Main Plaza
One of the "garistas" at San Cristobal
One of the “garistas” at San Cristobal

 

Main Plaza San Cristobel
Main Plaza San Cristobal
Model of the type of ship that once sailed San Juan's waters.
Model of the type of ship that once sailed San Juan’s waters.

 

One of the doorway's inside San Cristobal's walls
One of the doorway’s inside San Cristobal’s walls
Stairs to upper room in San Cristobal
Stairs to upper room in San Cristobal

 

High window with wood slats that look down on an incredible sea of pure blue.
High window with wood slats that look down on an incredible sea of pure blue.
Sea through the slats
Sea through the slats

 

Tight squeeze to this garista
Tight squeeze to this garista

 

Pick a passageway
Pick a passageway

LABYRINTH OF TUNNELS

The majesty of El Morro’s walls enchanted me, but San Cristobal’s labyrinth of tunnels beguiled me.

San Cristobal passagway 1

San Cristobal passagway 2

San Cristobal passagway 3

San Cristobal passagway 4

San Cristobal passagway 5

SEA AND CITY VIEWS FROM SAN CRISTOBAL

View from San Cristobal

View from San Cristobal

View of El Morro from the guard tower at San Cristobal used during WWII
View of El Morro from the guard tower at San Cristobal used during WWII

ON THE GROUNDS OF SAN CRISTOBAL

Ravelin area
Ravelin area

Outside Stairway at San Cristobal

THE DEVIL’S SENTRY BOX

The Devil's Sentry Box
The Devil’s Sentry Box

We never did figure out how, or even if we could, get to the Devil’s Sentry Box, but we were able to see it from San Cristobal.

What is the Devil’s Sentry Box?

La Garita del Diablo is rumored to have been the site where at least one soldier disappeared while on night watch. Apparently they would call “Alert!” to each other during the night to make sure they were still awake. But one night the guard stationed in that garita did not respond. When they went to check on him, he was gone.

It’s not clear if more than one soldier vanished mysteriously from here. But some stories of the legend recount that soldiers were leery of this tower anyway because of weird noises they often heard coming from it.

I was just excited to see it in person, even if I didn’t get to enter it with my own two feet.

Courtney Mroch
Courtney Mroch, otherwise known as HJ's Ambassador of Dark and Paranormal Tourism, is an author, traveler, and ghost enthusiast. When she's not writing, jaunting, or planning her next trip, it's a safe bet you'll find her on a tennis court somewhere. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
http://www.courtneymroch.com

4 thoughts on “San Juan’s Picturesque (and Haunted) Forts

  1. I can really see why you loved Old San Juan, Juliet. And I’m wondering if your post was the one where I saw a photo of El Morro. Specifically the ramp between the Main and Lower Plazas. I saw a shot of the sea through it before we went. I never would’ve thought to take that on my own. If it was you who inspired d me, THANKS!

  2. Hey! Thanks so much for the comment, Elal. I dig heritage and ancestry too. I will enjoy reading more of your posts. (But not the food ones when I haven’t eaten lunch yet. 😉 lol

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