San cristobal fortress: Castillo San Cristóbal | Discover Puerto Rico

A Brief History of Fort San Cristobal

San Juan. Fort San Cristobal. Puerto Rico | © Tomás Fano/Flickr

Mariela Santos

23 February 2017

The most famous fortification in Puerto Rico is probably El Morro Castle, but Fort San Cristobal, located in Old San Juan is not far behind. A section of the fort is walking distance from the San Juan Capitol Building and the Teatro Tapia y Rivera, a famous and historic theater. San Cristobal, as it’s commonly called, offers spectacular views, impressive architecture and its own unique experience for visitors.

According to the National Park Service, Fort San Cristobal is thought to be the biggest fortress constructed on the American continent. The fortress served as a means of defence for the city of San Juan in the event of land attacks from the east. The structure was built over a period of 150 years, and features three levels and multiple outer defences. Chief engineer of the project was Irishman Tomás O’Daly with assistance from Juan Francisco Mestre. The fortress was named in honor of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of land travelers, and was considered a necessary addition to San Juan’s defences in the wake of devastating attacks from the English in 1598 and Dutch in 1625.

Castillo de San Cristobal, Old Town San Juan, Puerto Rico | © Prayitno/Flickr

With its design inspired by the 17th century Vauban-style fortresses of France, notable features of the fort include a dungeon, moat, plaza, rooms for canons, various tunnels, and a bunker, with two observation posts added during World War II. In addition, rainwater was collected and those cisterns are used in the present day. The cisterns retain 800,000 gallons of water which is used to irrigate surrounding parkland and stands as proof that self sufficiency has existed for centuries.

Castillo San Cristóbal, San Juan, Puerto Rico | © Arthur T. LaBar/Flickr

Other must-know historical facts are that downsizing of the fort was carried out during late 1800s to make space for traffic flow into and out of Old San Juan, and San Cristobal was declared in 1983 part of the San Juan UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with other Spanish-era fortifications. It’s also a National Park Service Historic Site.

Fort San Cristobal tunnel system | © Jorge Láscar/Flickr

Fort San Cristobal’s network of underground tunnels is open for exploration – the complex maze was originally utilized to facilitate easy communication, transportation of military materials, and add a level of difficulty for attackers. The tunnels were completed in 1780 and were built to provide visual disadvantages for attackers through the shaping of the tunnels and the darkness of the surroundings. Visitors have the opportunity to walk through tunnels and gain additional insight into this important fortification. The structure stands as an imposing and impressive example of 18th century innovation in military engineering.

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Castillo de San Cristobal — Clio

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Text-to-speech Audio

The Castillo de San Cristobal also known as «Gibraltar of the Caribbean» was first built in 1634 by the Spanish settlers. This large fortress was built for the defense of San Juan to protect this city from attack by land from the east.The fort was named in honor of Saint Christopher. Several attacks were on this island that were from the English in 1598, Dutch in 1625, and British in 1797. After the attacks occurred, the government decided it was best to have the fort established. This fort is now a national historic site and park that was restored in 1983.


Fort Caristobal

Overall look of the fort

One of the tunnels

One of the drawings in the fort

Backstory and Context

Text-to-speech Audio

The construction began in 1625 and was completed in 1783. Many drawings are appeared on the thick walls that described the attacks that were in this fort. The fort had underground tunnels that were utilized for communication, transportation, military materials, and levels of difficulty for the attackers. The tunnels were completed in 1780 and provided the disadvantages from the attackers with the shaping of the tunnels and darkness. These tunnels were a lot easier for the troops to move to different places a lot faster.

The attack from the English in 1598 was led by George Clifford, who wanted to clean England’s honor which ended up being dirty by Sir Francis Drake’s defeat. After this occurred, he then organized the English to go against Spain. The Spanish won the first battle, however the Spanish troops couldn’t hold up the English’s entry in the city. The attack from the Dutch in 1625 were trying to take the land side of San Juan. This attack was led by General Hendricksz Boudewijin; however, the Spanish troops forced him and his troops to leave the city but did not burn the town. This attack showed the community the defenses and improvements that built a wall that surrounded the village. In 1797, the British troops made their first attack which was the last attack on this fort. This attack was led by General Ralph Abercromby in April. He sent nearly 7,ooo troops and 64 warships. The Spanish made them retreat 13 days after this final battle.

Because of his voyage and success, the government named it in honor of Christopher Columbus. His high religion, aspirations with trading, competition, and colonialization left his mark on the island. Many admired his work and commitment on the island was special to them. The colony was called «rich port» and it became a way of the military outpost.

The fort was active up to 1961 and was served as a military base to the U.S. army. From there, it was restored in 1983 and was declared as a national park and museum. Many people visit this historical site to get a clue of how the attacks were and the history of it that it made in the city. The U.S. army used the fort’s artillery post often in WWII. This fort is also where the first shots were fired during the Spanish American War.


“Frequently Asked Questions.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Dhara. “Visiting Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico ( Photos and Tips!).” It’s Not About the Miles…, April 6, 2020.

“Puerto Rico — History and Heritage.” Smithsonian Institution, November 6, 2007.

THE TRAVELLING HISTORIAN. Accessed April 19, 2020.

“Fort San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico.” GPSmyCity. Accessed April 23, 2020.

Sara, and Sara. “Sara.”, January 22, 2017.

“Fort San Cristóbal (Puerto Rico) in San Juan.” Advisor.Travel. Accessed April 19, 2020.

Uncover Travel. “The British Attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1797.” Uncover Travel, February 26, 2017.

“Fort San Cristóbal. ” Tour Old San Juan, March 7, 2018.

Southwest Airlines. “Fort Castillo San Cristobal in Old San Juan Puerto Rico.” Calculated Traveller Magazine, February 14, 2020.

Whelan, Ed. “Fort of Castillo San Cristóbal: Built to Defend Against the English, Dutch and Marauding Pirates.” Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, July 16, 2019.

Image Sources(Click to expand)×540.jpg&exph=540&expw=960&q=fort+castillo+caristobal&selectedindex=3&ajaxhist=0&vt=0&eim=1,2,6


Additional Information

  • Tour of the fort

  • History of the forts in Puerto Rico

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Fort San Cristobal — the coldest abandoned building in Spain?

Anyone who visits Pamplona will see Mount San Cristobal. If you don’t see it on your way into or out of the city, you will see it from within the city walls or from La Taconera Park. It is a small mountain that is easy to climb and is synonymous with Pamplona for the locals. In summer, its bright green slopes are illuminated by the sun, often against clear blue skies. In winter it turns white, covered in icy frost in the morning or thick snow covering the grass, trees and tiny villages. But San Cristobal also has a dark and bloody history, being home to perhaps the scariest abandoned building I’ve ever come across.

© Adam L. Maloney (Monte de San Cristóbal to the right of the River Arga)

«Don’t call it San Cristobal. It’s called Ezcaba. That’s what Oski told me. Oski was one of the first locals, whom I met in Pamplona, ​​a faithful Basque who once witnessed being run into an ATM machine because it would not offer him Basque despite being fluent in Spanish and English. village called Artika and was the first person to tell me the dark story of this mountain.0005 © Adam L. Maloney (Christian crosses on the lower part of the mountain)

Only two years later I finally climbed the mountain with my friend. There is a road that can be easily walked on, but we avoided it by choosing one of the steep and dense footpaths, passing through rocks, thorns, plants and steep hills covered with trees. I remember stopping to rest halfway up the mountain to see a yellow spider crawling up my arm, as well as a black and yellow lizard, possibly a fire salamander, lying on a rock next to me.

© quintanilla (View of Pamplona from the top of the mountain)

We reached the top of the mountain in about two hours and saw magnificent views of Pamplona and its surroundings, but above all, the fort is in my head. Fort San Cristobal was built between 1879-1919 during the Carlist Wars but was turned into a prison in the 1930s. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 as a result of a fascist military uprising, Pamplona instantly came under fascist control and 2,000 people were imprisoned in the fort, mostly for having unfavorable views.

Fort San Cristóbal, Pamplona

Monte Ezcaba, 31195, Navarra, Spain

© Jorab (Entrance to the abandoned Fort San Cristóbal)

On 22 May 1938 there was a huge prison break and 792 prisoners managed to escape. Descending down the mountain, the prison guard alerted the fascist rebels, who immediately began hunting, arresting 585 who had fled, and 211 were shot dead on the spot. 14 of them were considered leaders of criminal gangs and were sentenced to death. Only 3 fugitives successfully escaped and crossed the French border. Many of those who were returned to prison were left there to die of hunger and disease in their cells, and the death toll for this exceeded 400 people.

© Jorab (Inside the prison’s corridors in sight of former cells)

It was a strange feeling to climb into an abandoned fortress, walk through its concrete corridors and even into dark and empty cells, a reminder of a time that should never be repeated.

«If I condensed what I know and thought about the Spanish Civil War into six lines, you wouldn’t print it.

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