Think that you have to go to Europe to find centuries-old fortresses and other historic sites? Think again. Right here in Florida there is plenty to intrigue history buffs. Here are five Florida historic sites arranged alphabetically by site name that open windows to the past:
-- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine A stone and mortar fortress, the Castillo de San Marcos was begun in Spanish St. Augustine to protect St. Augustine against pirate attacks and raids in 1672. An excellent example of "bastion architecture," it is the oldest masonry and only extant 17th century fortress in North America and covers 20.5 acres. Castillo de San Marcos offers a variety of events and activities including living history and weapons demonstrations throughout the year and it is under the direction of the National Park Service. Entrance fee is $7 (children under 16 years of age are free). For information, visit www.nps.gov/casa.
-- Fort Clinch, Amelia Island In the 19th century the United States took control of Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach and construction of Fort Clinch began in 1847. Named for General Duncan Lamont Finch, a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican Wars, the fort was occupied during the Civil War by the Confederate troops but evacuated in 1862 under orders from Robert E. Lee as Lee felt he could not hold the fort against Union attack and the fort came under Union control. It was used again during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The fort is part of the Florida Park System since 1935 and boasts sandy beaches, a six-mile biking/hiking trail, nature trails for self-guided tours to observe wildlife and view plants, campsites and a state museum. Daily tours with period re-enactors are featured. Admission fees are $6 per vehicle (2-8 people); $4 for single occupant vehicle; $2 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in a vehicle with holder of an annual individual entrance pass. Fort admission fee is $2 per person. Visit www.floridastateparks.org/fortclinch.
-- Fort Matanzas National Monument, St. Augustine During the colonial era, Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine's southern river approach. It is located 15 miles south of the Old City and is a reminder of the Spanish empire's presence in Florida. Cannon firings, musket demonstrations and other living history events are featured. There are no admission fees for the park nor for the 36-passenger ferry that takes to the park (it operates on a first-come/first served basis). Donations are gratefully accepted and used for the maintenance and upkeep of the fort. Visit www.nps.gov/foma.
-- Mission of Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, St. Augustine Think you have to travel to California to see Spanish missions? Nope. We have some right here in Florida. The Mission of Nombre de Dios traces its origins to the founding of St. Augustine America's oldest city in 1565. The mission stands on the spot where Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles knelt and kissed a cross given to him by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, his expedition's chaplain. At this spot, the chaplain would celebrate the first Mass, the mission would be built and the Spanish settlers would begin the devotion of Our Lady of La Leche, which continues centuries later to the present time. Mission highlights include The Great Cross made of stainless steel and rising 208 feet over the Mission and the marshes of the Matanzas River. There is no admission fee; donations are encouraged. The mission is at 27 Ocean Avenue. Visit www.missionandshrine.org.
-- Mission San Luis, Tallahassee Another historic Spanish Florida mission is Mission San Luis, a living history village and national landmark in Tallahassee that recreates a community where Apalachee Indians and newcomers from Spain live in close proximity drawn together by religion and economic and military purposes. Visitors can see the plaza where Apalachee Indians played traditional ball games, the council house, the most important structure in the Apalachee village, as well as the Spanish deputy governor's house and the church built under the direction of Franciscans. A visitor's center features art and artifacts from colonial times. The mission has a busy special events calendar each month including colonial crafts sessions for children, black powder musket demonstrations and historic gardening tours. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children. The mission is at 2100 West Tennessee Street. Visit www.missionsanluis.org.