Visiting “Teacher-led” means your students will tour the fort under your supervision, instead of exploring with a licensed tour guide. Fort tour guides are experienced storytellers and park partners who provide curriculum-based experiences. If you are unable to hire a tour guide, it is your responsibility to prepare your students and their accompanying chaperones for the visit. To assist you, we have put together the Rules and General Information for Visiting, Resources for Your Classroom, and Tour Stops to help you make the most of your visit.
Rules and General Information for Visiting
Castillo de San Marcos has more than 840,000 visitors each year. Of these, approximately 84,000 are visiting for academic purposes as school groups. You will encounter many other groups touring the park and they have been given the same guidance as you. Please observe the following rules for your safety and the enjoyment of all our visitors.
CHECK-IN AND TIME LIMITS – Upon arrival, please check-in with the Ranger at the School Group Check-In Podium. Your 1 hour reservation time involves 30 minutes to explore the exterior and 30 minutes to explore the interior. If you are late, please reduce your time at each stop, or skip stops, to stay within your reservation. Please be aware of the time and adhere to the schedule to allow all school groups the same experience.
TOUR STOPS – The Park has determined the ideal stops for school groups based on state curriculum standards and fort logistics. Use these materials to prepare yourself and your accompanying chaperones to know where to stop and where not to stop.
STAY WITH CHAPERONES – The teacher/chaperone is responsible for leading and keeping the group together. You may not break up into smaller groups, but must move as one large group, walking in single file and staying to the right when entering the Castillo, going in and out of the rooms, and on the stairs. Traffic should move clockwise around the courtyard.
VISIT QUIETLY – As you are visiting for academic purposes, your students should behave as if in a classroom – quiet and attentive. Be respectful of other school groups, visitors, and ranger programs in progress. If you arrive at an area that is occupied, please skip it and go back later if time permits.
VISIT SAFELY AND HELP PRESERVE THE FORT – Castillo de San Marcos is a 17th century fortification; it was not built with your students’ safety in mind. Do not sit, stand, lean or climb on the walls, cannon or cannon carriages. This will ensure both your safety and the preservation of the monument.
RESTROOMS – Ensure enough time is permitted to use the restrooms prior to leaving the Castillo, as there is no re-entry once the group has exited the fort.
HYDRATE – Only water is allowed inside the Castillo. Please secure or dispose of all other drinks before entering. Keep hydrated! Water fountains are located inside the Castillo as well as a water bottle refill station.
FOOD – Only water is allowed inside the Castillo. Please secure or dispose of all other drinks, foods, candy, or gum before entering. If you picnic on the park grounds please bring your own trash bags and don’t overfill our trash cans. Remember: Leave No Trace! Do not feed any animals on the property, including seagulls and pigeons.
BUSES – Bus spaces are for loading and unloading only. There is no bus parking in the Castillo parking lot. However, bus parking is available behind the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center.
ACCESSIBILITY – The parking lot and the fort’s lower level, which includes the rooms, the theater, and the restrooms, are wheelchair accessible. Most of the park’s pedestrian walkways are paved; however, those within the moat and covered way are sand and crushed shell stone. The gun deck level can only be reached by stairs. The park orientation video is in English with closed-captioning. The park brochure and self-guided tour are available in several languages and braille. Please email us if you need the braille materials in advance, so we can have them ready for your group. Learn more about accessibility before your visit.
Resources for Your Classroom
You’ve scheduled your visit to Castillo de San Marcos, now what? Here are some resources to help you give your students and their accompanying chaperones the best experience possible:
With over 300 years of history, it can be difficult to decide where to focus your attention when you visit. To help, we will give you a tour booklet when you arrive at the fort, but the content can also be found in the next section under, Tour Stops. This will help you prepare your chaperones in advance on what areas and history best support your curriculum standards.
Welcome! Castillo de San Marcos is St. Augustine’s Best Primary Source. Your students are about to encounter history in an authentic setting. Primary sources, like Castillo de San Marcos, have the power to unlock the past. We invite students to examine the fort, as they would any artifact, and draw conclusions about its history and occupants based on their observations. For this reason, we will pose questions for your students to think over and evidence for you to share with them. The Park has identified ideal stops for school groups based on opportunities for student engagement, Florida State curriculum, and fort logistics.
Your 1 hour reservation time involves 30 minutes to explore the fort’s exterior and 30 minutes to explore the interior. Each stop is labeled on the map. The stops are not in chronological order. If one of the areas is already occupied by a large group, we recommend skipping it, and coming back to it later. Exterior tour stops are labeled with capital letters. Given the amount of space on the outside of the fort, your group has more freedom to move about the perimeter. Interior stops are labeled with Roman numerals; I: Gun Deck, II: “Flag Room,” III: “British Room,” IV: Chapel, and V: Bathrooms. Rooms marked with █ indicate areas that should be avoided, because they are locked casemates or heavily congested spaces. If you get lost or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask a Ranger or a Volunteer. Have a great visit!
1. How can we use Castillo de San Marcos as a primary source?
Examine the fort as an artifact.
Draw conclusions about its history and occupants.
2. Questions to consider:
How is this artifact similar to or different from others you have seen?
Who do you think would have built and used it? Why? How?
What does it tell you about the way they lived, acted, thought, traveled, etc.?
Do you think the fort was important to the owners? Why?
A: WEST EXTERIOR
1. Why did the Spanish build a stone fort?
Pirates wanted to steal treasure from the Spanish treasure fleets using the Gulf Stream.
England and France, like Spain, were also trying to set up new colonies.
Local natives came into conflict with the Spanish over land or religion.
Spanish built nine wooden forts in St. Augustine that did not survive pirate attacks, fire, and weather.
2. When, who, and how?
1672-1695 Spanish workers, Native Americans (Timucuan, Guale, and Apalachee), free and enslaved Africans, and European prisoners built the Castillo under Spanish direction.
Coquina stone (millions of fossilized seashells) was quarried on Anastasia Island. About 400,000 blocks of coquina were cut.
The mortar, plaster, and tabby (the floors were tabby) were all manmade of sand, water, crushed and burned shell, and ash.
3. Every owner has made physical changes to the fort. What do these changes tell us?
Find the windows. The original height of the walls was just below the windows. The Spanish raised the height of the walls (1738 East wall, 1756-1763 North, South, West walls). They replaced the flat wooden ceilings inside with stone arches, because arches are stronger.
Find the windows. Under British occupation (1763-1784), they added windows for air flow.
The NPS added water to the moat (1936-1996). Can you find evidence of the damage the moat water caused? Find the cracks in the bastion walls.
4. How much of the fort is original?
Most of it. Find areas where the coquina is a light blonde instead of a gray color. This is new coquina the NPS uses to make repairs.
5. How can you help preserve the Castillo for future generations?
Do not sit, stand, or climb on the walls, cannon, or cannon carriages.
B: NORTH EXTERIOR
1. Imagine you are the enemy. How would you attack this fort? Think through the obstacles. Think through what supplies you would need to successfully conquer it.
2. What defenses can you see from where we are standing?
Coquina walls (absorbed impact of cannon balls!)
Garitas (watchtower or sentry towers) and bastions (diamond shaped corners allowed them to see and fire in every direction)
Gun deck (cannon fired 1½ to 3½ miles away)
Dry moat (Livestock were protected there during sieges)
Glacis (small manmade hill surrounding fort)
Covered way (outer defense between moat and glacis)
3. What defenses are not seen from where we are standing?
Ravelin (triangular structure between the two drawbridges that protects the doorway)
Cubo Line (wall from fort past City Gate)
Fort Matanzas (protected southern approach) and Fort Mose (protected northern approach). It was the first free African American community in the U.S. In 1740, the Black militia, Spaniards, and Indian allies defended town from the British and forced them to retreat.
Forts San Francisco de Pupo, Picolata, San Diego, and walls of the Hornwork, Rosario Line, Mose Line, all no longer exist, but were additional outer defenses for the town.
4. Now that you know more about the outer defenses, do you think many enemies successfully conquered the fort?
5. Fun Fact: There used to be an emergency exit in the north wall! Can you see where the door used to be? Look for the keystone, which looks like an upside-down trapezoid.
C: EAST EXTERIOR, WATER BATTERY
1. What do you see in the water battery?
Seawall, artillery (mortars, howitzers, cannon), and hot shot furnace
2. How did the U.S. change the water battery?
The hot shot furnace could heat cannon balls to be fired at wooden ships from cannon that could be aimed by swiveling them on their mount.
Find the many small holes in the fort’s east walls. This was not an execution area. The damage may have been caused by the U.S. using the walls for target practice, or by plants that grew onto walls.
3. How did the U.S. military use this fort?
In the 1800s, the U.S. took over Florida with the Adam-Onis Treaty, and renamed the Castillo “Fort Marion.”
The U.S. Army imprisoned Seminoles, Plains Indians, and Apaches in the fort.
4. What do you know about the Seminoles and Osceola?
200 Seminoles, including Osceola, were captured by the U.S. and held prisoner here.
20 escaped, and to this day, we do not have all of the details about that escape.
Coacoochee (in English: Wild Cat), said the prisoners fasted, lost weight, and escaped through a window.
Seminoles are known as, “the unconquered people,” because they never signed a treaty with the U.S. government.
5. How else has the fort been used?
During the tourism of the Flagler Era, the first golf course in Florida was built on the fort’s lawn.
In 1924, Castillo and Fort Matanzas were declared National Monuments by President Coolidge. The National Park Service exists to preserve national monuments.
D: EAST EXTERIOR, WATER BATTERY
All cannon at the fort are historic, except the three replicas on the northeast bastion. These replica cannon are used for historic weapon demonstrations by the park staff and volunteers on the weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday at 10:30, 11:30, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30), weather and staff permitting. These involve park staff sharing information about the weapon and reenactors performing an 18th century drill in Castilian Spanish. The program can last anywhere from 15-25 minutes. If you have questions about the schedule, please check with a ranger. If the cannon firing is taking place during the exterior portion of your tour, please observe the demonstration from the viewing area in the water battery.
I: INTERIOR, GUN DECK
1. Imagine you and your family are living in St. Augustine. Pirates, natives, and the English attack often. Why doesn’t your family just move away? How would you defend your town? Think through what defenses and supplies you would need to successfully protect it.
2. What evidence supports the claim that the fort was built to protect the townspeople?
Find the bastions, garitas or sentry boxes, bell tower, cannon, mortars.
Garitas, including the bell tower, provided a safe location to view approaching enemies.
Walls are 33 feet tall and bastions allow multiple angles of cannon fire on any point.
Find the lighthouse. Smaller cannon could fire to the lighthouse, about 1½ miles away, and larger cannon could fire up to 3 ½ miles away!
3. What additional physical features are seen from here? What do they tell us?
4. Why do you think St. Augustine was, and still is, important?
It gave the Spanish quick access to the Gulf Stream’s fast-moving current to travel with their treasure from the Americas to Spain.
Castillo acted as a base from which Spanish ships patrolled the coastline, looking for pirates, and rescuing shipwreck survivors.
It’s an authentic place to learn about our nation’s past.
II: INTERIOR, “FLAG ROOM”
1. Why is the Castillo significant?
It’s the oldest fort in the continental United States. It’s over 300 years old!
Built of coquina stone (millions of fossilized seashells). It was much stronger than the earlier wooden and earthen forts.
Native Americans (Timucuan, Apalachee, Guale), Africans, and Europeans built the fort from 1672-1695.
It’s a symbol of an amazing history of Spanish, British, and American involvement in this region.
2. Examine the exhibit model of the fort. What do you notice about its design?
It’s shaped like a star.
Its diamond shaped corners, called bastions, allowed the guards to see and fire in every outward direction.
3. What else can you observe on the model?
4. What does the flag exhibit and its timeline tell us about the fort?
Castillo was attacked several times, but it never fell in battle.
Treaties traded Florida and the Castillo from the Spanish, to British, to Spanish, to U.S.
There are several U.S. flags, because of the Civil War and the country is growing (territories like FL are becoming states).
5. What additional physical features are seen here? What do they tell us?
There is plaster overtop the coquina. The Spanish were the last owner to plaster, which preserved the coquina. Some of the plaster is pinkish, because the fort was painted red and white.
Unlike coquina, the plaster, mortar, and tabby (floors were tabby) were all manmade.
There are bars on the window. The Spanish wanted to keep people out of the storage rooms. Later the U.S. used the fort as a prison.
III: INTERIOR, “BRITISH ROOM”
1. What do the secondary sources in this room tell us about the life of a soldier?
Draw conclusions based on the uniforms, bunks, table and desk items, etc.
2. What was it like to be a soldier here?
300 Spanish soldiers lived in town with their families; 20-30 would report to the fort for guard duty, like modern firefighters.
Some British soldiers lived here. Look up. The British added second floors to accommodate troops.
On the tricorn hat the cockade, or bow, tells us who the soldier fights for. A red cockade meant Spanish, while a black one meant British.
Both the Spanish and British stood guard and practiced drilling with the muskets and cannon.
3. When and why were the British here?
1702, English troops from South Carolina invaded the town, surrounded the fort, and laid siege for 51 days. In 1740, English troops from Georgia attacked. Both sieges ended in Spanish victory.
Although the fort was never taken in battle, the British did take it in a treaty that ended the French and Indian War.
During the American Revolution, East and West Florida, the 14th & 15th Colonies, remained loyal. Hundreds of British soldiers were stationed here.
The British imprisoned 3 signers of the Declaration of Independence in town and imprisoned Lieutenant Governor Gadsden of SC in the fort’s prison for 42 weeks.
4. How did the Revolutionary War end?
The British lost and a treaty gave Florida back to Spain.
IV: INTERIOR, CHAPEL
1. Imagine you are living in Spain. The King is sending families to Florida to colonize. Would you like to move to Florida? Why or why not?
2. Even though it was dangerous, why did nobles, like Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez, explore and colonize? Why did families follow them?
Motivations have been summarized as, “God, glory, and gold.” For many it was the hope of riches, land, a new start, or something else they didn’t have back home.
3. What were the effects of Spanish rule? Do you see any evidence in this room?
Pedro Menendez attacked Fort Caroline and ended France’s attempt to control Florida.
Spanish introduced the Catholic religion, European diseases, pigs, horses, and oranges to Florida. They took corn, squash, and beans to Spain.
Towns, forts, and streets were named after Catholic saints and Europeans.
Spanish built missions to spread their religion.
Mission Nombre de Dios site is located less than a mile north of the fort. In 1565, Pedro Menendez landed and held the first Catholic mass in what is now the continental U.S.
The altar and holy water fonts are evidence that this room was used as a chapel.
4. Who were the Timucua and what happened to them?
The Timucua people were native peoples who lived in north Florida and SE Georgia.
They never united into a single group, but they all spoke variations of the same language.
They were impacted by the arrival of the Spanish. Many died of diseases, some left the area, some were killed during uprisings, and some became Catholic and joined the Spanish.
In 1763, when the Spanish left Florida and moved to Cuba, the last remaining Timucua people left with them.
V: INTERIOR, OLD AND NEW BATHROOMS
1. Imagine you’re under attack. What resources do you need to keep your citizens safe?
2. How do you think the Spanish used the courtyard and casemates (rooms)?
Citizens could take refuge in the courtyard.
Rooms held food and supplies, the well (find the well) provided water, and livestock were kept in the dry moat.
1702: the English attacked and 1,500 people were packed into the fort for 51 days! Almost 200 cows were in the dry moat.
3. What is the most important thing to have, other than weapons, food and water, for the people taking shelter inside the Castillo during a battle? Look under the staircase.
The old Spanish bathrooms were designed to flush waste from latrines into the bay.
Even when the entire town of St. Augustine had to stay inside the fort for safety during a 51-day siege, no one died of illness! Proper waste disposal was very important.
4. Look around the downstairs. What other physical characteristics do you observe? What do they tell us about the fort and the people?
They had advanced architectural knowledge. The fort is functional and visually appealing.
The arch under the staircase, like the arched casemate ceilings, supported weight above.
The outer chapel door is more ornate than the others, signifying its importance.
Modern bathrooms used to be areas for blacksmithing and carpentry.
5. What do you think were the most important skills to have back then?
Why do you think St. Augustine was, and still is, significant?
How important are primary sources, like Castillo de San Marcos, when it comes to learning about the past?
How does the fort best symbolize human determination, conflict between nations, or cultural diversity? Justify your answer.
What does the fort represent to you?
Why do you think the fort should be preserved?
As a citizen, what are your duties or responsibilities at the Castillo or in other national parks?