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Castillo de San Cristóbal: The Largest of the San Juan Forts

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Castillo de San Cristóbal: The Largest of the San Juan Forts

The entrance to Castillo de San Cristóbal

Photo © Zain Deane

The Bottom Line

The Castillo de San Cristóbal, or "Saint Christopher Castle" was more than El Morro's partner in the defense of Old San Juan. It was also the largest military structure built by the Spanish in the Americas. Now a fixture among Puerto Rico's landmarks, it's worth a visit when you're in Old San Juan.

Pros

  • A chance to see the largest fort ever built by the Spanish in the New World.
  • Magnificent views of the San Juan Bay and El Morro.
  • A great look at 18th Century military architecture.
  • A very cheap attraction

Cons

  • Somehow lacks the charm and beauty of El Morro.

Description

  • Note that the official name for the structure is "Castle," not "Fort." El Morro is also technically a Castle.
  • In 1942, the U.S. added military bunkers and concrete pillboxes to the fort, which stick out oddly today.
  • Take the guided tour and you might get to hold one of the bayonets in the soldier's barracks.

Guide Review - Castillo de San Cristóbal: The Largest of the San Juan Forts

Rising almost 150 feet above sea level, the Castillo de San Cristóbal is a massive structure that occupies most of the northeast edge of Old San Juan. Built mainly over a 20-year period (1765-1785), San Cristóbal was over 200 years newer than El Morro, Puerto Rico's military stalwart at the time.

Yet it was a much-needed addition to the city's defenses. While El Morro guarded the bay, San Cristóbal watched over the land east of Old San Juan. Building a fortification that protected the city from a land invasion proved to be a wise move. In 1797, the fort helped repel an invasion by Sir Ralph Abercrombie.

From an architectural perspective, San Cristóbal's design was ingenious, and followed a model known as "defense-in-depth." The castle is comprised of several layers, each walled and stoutly fortified to frustrate and slow an enemy not once, but several times. A walk through the fort today will show you its unusual but effective layout.

The fort has seen its share of battles. It fired the first Spanish shot of the Spanish-American War. During World War II, the U.S. added fortifications to its outer walls. Through it all, it has stood the tests of time and war.

Today, from the parapet of San Cristóbal you can gaze over the barrel of a canon at cruise ships docking in the San Juan Bay, or at El Morro on the eastern edge of the old city. You can step inside a garita, or sentry box, and look out over the water. And you can see Old San Juan spread out before you.

Come and take a tour, or just walk around and feel the ancient walls, the cannon, and the essence of what this island was like when the mightiest of the San Juan forts defended Puerto Rico when New World was still up for grabs.

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