I love history and warm places, hence my love of Greece, Italy and Egypt. But did you know we have a 450 year old city in the United States? A city founded as the renaissance in Europe was only 60 years old. Amazing, right?
The city of St. Augustine, Florida is just south of Jacksonville along the Atlantic coast of the Sunshine State and has been welcoming visitors for the last four centuries. I’ve been fascinated by St. Augustine for years, and always pointed out that it beats Jamestown Colony, VA as the longest-established colony in the new world by more than 40 years. We just don’t hear about it much in school because it was in Spanish and not English America. But that’s enough editorializing; here are some of the historic sites you can visit in St. Augustine.
- Castillo de San Marcos is a 17th century stone fort built by the Spanish to defend against the English and privateers. The property is now operated by the U.S. Park Service. It’ll cost you $10 to check out the museum, fort, and living history displays.
- Fort Mantanzas, just 14 miles away is another, smaller fort built by the Spanish in 1742 that guards the river entrance to the south of San Marcos.
- Nombre de Dios is a mission that dates back to 1565, founded by the chaplain Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales who accompanied the expedition that founded the city.
- Fort Mose Historic State Park was founded in 1738 while Florida was still under Spanish control as a haven for freed and escaped African slaves from the British Carolinas. When the Spanish ceded Florida to the British, most of the colony immigrated to Cuba rather than face the real chance they’d be returned to bondage. The original fort is gone but the state park is filled with things to do. You can hike some of the nature trails, walk along the boardwalk along the water’s edge to watch the waterfowl or focus your time on learning about the inhabitants of this haven. The museum features archaeological artifacts, hands-on educational displays and audio tours.
- St. Photios Greek Shrine is located near the old city gates of St. Augustine. The shrine is dedicated to the first Greek colony in America, founded 1768. The shrine is decorated in Byzantine-style frescos and gold leaf. The nearby museum is filled with documents, pictures and artifacts from those early Greek settlers. I wonder if any of them opened a restaurant (we’re pretty good at that).
- The Old Town Saint Augustine is a wonder in itself; the old world feel envelops you as you walk down the narrow streets and look for a place to eat or an antique to buy. The Old Town, much like Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is a historic landmark and a functioning town. It’s your opportunity to get lost in this place people have been drawn to for the last 450 years.