Guest Column: Mysterious Graffiti at the Castillo
By: Raphael Cosme
Every year hundreds of thousands of people visit the Castillo de San Marcos in the city of Saint Augustine; but, few notice, hidden along the thick walls, the marvelous colonial graffiti whose meaning and historic origin have been studied but not fully known.
According to investigators, these engravings or graffiti were made during the 1700s and were the result of some kind of entertainment by the Spanish militias to deal with their boredom during their shifts of protecting the fortification. Some of the graffiti were associated with Native American Indians jailed as well.
It was not until the middle of the 20th Century that the National Park Service hired historian, Luis Rafael Arana and Albert Manucy, to decipher these colonial messages in the walls of the fort and to classify the majority of it.
This is not a unique event; other researches were made in other Spanish fortifications. In Puerto Rico, the San Felipe del Morro, San Cristobal Fort, and Tajamar presented similar colonial engravings too.
Through my recent visits, here in St. Augustine to the Castillo de San Marcos, I verified the existence of these colonial engravings in the military dormitory and the armory room. In the dormitory over 12 ships were counted with different shapes and dimensions; one particular ship was easy to define as being from the 18th Century.
Other engravings at the Castillo were located in the armory room but these were intentionally made with architectural decorations to designate an area of high risk with gunpowder storage. These engravings were easily associated with gunpowder and used by the military personnel. The design was applied at a halfway point on the wall using a band of incised lines, arches, and circles painted in red and yellow.
Ranger Griselle Fuellner looked through these engravings on his first day of work at the Castillo. After studying the notes from historians Mr. Arana and Mr. Manucy, she explains to the fort visitors the history and meanings of the engravings as accurately as possible; “but visitors want to know everything about the fort and the history attached, the most common is the cannon shot hours and the re-enactor’s show” said Mrs. Fuellner.
The colonial graffiti at the Castillo de San Marcos is still a mystery and nobody knows, for certain, their origin and meaning; or, how much these drawings could affect St Augustine’s history.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News contributed photograph by Raphael Cosme