Thursday, February 2, 2012

Caribbean Forts

I just got back from a nice Caribbean vacation.  Looks like I missed posting in January altogether.  Ah, well, such is the busy life I lead some times.  During our trip to Puerto Rico and the subsequent cruise I got to visit a number of island forts.  Besides being intrigued by the ingenuity, and fascinated by the history, I always come away with some adventure ideas and a little better understanding of what it might really have been like.  This one was more food for thought for that Carib/Pirate game I keep threatening to run.

The forts in the islands were in their prime during the age of large cannons and muskets, so the architecture represents those features.  The walls are enormously thick, finished on the outsides but filled with rubble and dirt in between, and the cannon ports are narrow on the cannon side and wide in the direction they want to direct fire.  Forts are often multi-level and built to use or overcome local geographic features.  Another common feature in the region is to design the fort as a huge water collection system which routes water to massive cisterns underneath to handle long periods without rain, or long sieges.

In Old San Juan we visited El Morro, and Castillo de San Cristobal.  Neither one of the was impregnable, but both are quite impressive.  El Morro features six distinct levels with a surprising height difference between the lowest and highest levels.  Perched on the point protecting San Juan harbor, the stone behemoth must have been an imposing site when ships sailed past.  San Cristobal, on the other end of old San Juan, was not as impressive a sight from a distance, but was also formidable.  I especially liked the tunnels which were designed to have explosives placed along the inside to defend against possible breach; if an enemy broke through one side of the tunnel the explosives were meant to insure they never saw the other end of the tunnel.

On St. Kitts we visited the Fort on Brimstone Hill.  Even if this fort sitting on a 200 meter pimple of land along the coast did not have the great views and impressive fortifications that it does, how could you not visit a place with such a name!  And yes, the area around the base of the hill does smell of sulfur from the volcanic rocks, and I suspect some mild volcanic activity.  Again, the fort was not impregnable, but was impressive.  Apparently the powder magazine in this fort was struck by lightening and totally destroyed more than once.  Makes one think a bit before accepting guard duty during those violent tropical storms.  I really liked the caponiers which protruded from the centers of the forts polygonal walls.  They were designed to provide cover for close fire musket troops to defend against an enemy attempting to scale the walls.

I'd recommend all three to those even mildly interested in historic fortifications.  They were all in reasonably good repair and had numerous displays and associated materials to further explain what life was like in the time period.

Oh, and we did also find plenty of time to enjoy the beaches, snorkeling, and partake of island style food and drink.  But that doesn't usually give me adventure ideas.


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