St. Augustine, Florida - Historic Sites & Points of Interest
St. Augustine, Florida - Historic Sites & Points of Interest
St. Augustine, Florida
The Old City Gates still greet
visitors to the nation's oldest city.
St. Augustine was founded in
St. Augustine Lighthouse
The tower, famed for its ghost
stories, is the latest in a series
of lighthouses that have stood at
Forts of St. Augustine
An array of walls and forts
surround the nation's oldest city.
The Castillo de San Marcos
(background) is over 300 years
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
Historic Sites & Points of Interest
Ghost Tour in the Oldest City
St. Augustine is the nation's
oldest city and it may also be its
most haunted. A variety of tours
guide visitors into the night.
St. Augustine is a beautiful and charming old
world city on the Atlantic coast of Florida.
The oldest permanent city in what is now the
continental United States, St. Augustine was
founded by the Spanish 42 years before the
English landed at Jamestown and 55 years
before the first Pilgrim set foot on Plymouth
No other community in the country can boast
of so many firsts. St. Augustine is home to
the oldest masonry fort, oldest public park,
first settlement for free blacks, oldest house,
the "Fountain of Youth" and the oldest
Christian community in the continental U.S.
Many of its structures are more than 200
years old and the sheer number of historic
sites astounds even the most traveled visitor.
A major destination for heritage tourists, St.
Augustine is also known for its beautiful
beaches, sparkling blue waters, coastal eco-
systems and the offshore spawning grounds
of the North Atlantic Right Whale.
Legend holds that the Juan Ponce de Leon,
the Spanish explorer who discovered Florida
in 1513, first set foot in the St. Augustine
area. He came in search of the Fountain of
Youth and according to local tradition drank
from the small spring on the grounds of
today's Fountain of Youth Archaeological
Ponce de Leon did not discover the secret of
eternal youth, but he did discover a "land of
flowers" that delights visitors of all ages to
this day. The name Florida, or La Florida as it
was called by the early explorer, originates
from his arrival during Pasqua Florida, the
Spanish Festival of Flowers which takes
place during the Easter season.
Ponce de Leon was followed in 1565 by
Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish officer
sent to destroy the French Hugenot
(Protestant) settlement planted the previous
year at Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River.
Fiercely devoted to the Catholic church,
Menendez viewed the Hugenots as heretics
and led a military expedition by sea up the
east coast of Florida. He landed at the town
of Seloy, a Timucuan Indian chief, on
September 8, 1565. With the permission of
Chief Seloy, the Spanish built a fort in his
Archaeologists have located the site of the
original fort built on the grounds of Fountain
of Youth Archaeological Park and adjoining
Mission Nombre de Dios historic site. It was
from this Spanish outpost, never abandoned
since that day, that the city of St. Augustine
As was their tradition, the Spanish held built
a rough altar on the day they came ashore
and their chaplain, Fray Lopez de Mendoza
Grajales said a Mass of Thanksgiving. The
service marked the permanent arrival of
Christianity and the founding of the first
Catholic church in the continental United
It has been said that the Spanish arrived in
Florida with the cross and the sword. They
had shown the cross on their arrival at St.
Augustine. Soon they would show the sword
to the French Hugenots at Fort Caroline.
As French warships sailed south from the St.
Johns to destroy the Spanish, Menendez
marched north from St. Augustine to destroy
the French. Neither side appears to have
known the other was on the move. A storm
scattered the French ships and drove them
out to sea as Menendez marched overland to
The Spanish stormed the lightly defended
fort on the morning of September 20, 1565.
An estimated 140 French men were put to
the sword in a bloody massacre. Around 60
women and children were spared and it is
thought that another 40-50 of the French fled
over the walls into the fort and into the woods.
Renaming the fort San Mateo, Menendez
marched back to St. Augustine alarmed over
the reports of French survivors that their
leader, Jean Ribault, had set out by ship just
days before on a similar mission to destroy
The storm that had broken up his fleet had
driven some of Ribault's ships ashore on
Cape Canaveral. With no other alternative,
the survivors of these wrecks - Ribault
among them - started a long march up the
Atlantic Ocean beaches for Fort Carolina. The
Spanish found them at Matanzas Inlet south
of St. Augustine.
There, at present-day Fort Matanzas National
Monument, Menendez convinced them to
surrender at discretion and then demanded
that they convert to Catholicism. When they
refused, he put them to the sword as heretics.
Matanzas Bay, which forms the waterfront of
St. Augustine, gained its name on the day of
the slaughter of Ribault and his men. The
word "matanza" is Spanish for massacre or
The defeat of the French allowed the survival
of St. Augustine, but the city would live under
the threat of attack and war for the next 300
years. Numerous battles were fought for its
English "privateers" under Sir Francis Drake
attacked and looted the city in 1586. The fort
and homes were torched and the inhabitants
forced to flee into the woods.
Directory of St. Augustine pages
|St. Augustine, Florida
St. George Street runs through the center of the
Oldest City. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the
oldest permanent settlement in the United States.
|Copyright 2011 & 2015 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last update: March 23, 2015
The Spanish rebuilt St. Augustine, but the
English came again in 1668. The attackers
this time were pirates who did not bother to
seek legitimacy as "privateers." Once again
the town was looted and destroyed.
Determined to protect the city, the King of
Spain authorized the construction of a
massive stone fort to replace the earlier
wooden defenses. Begun in 1672, this fort
became the Castillo de San Marcos and
survives today as the oldest masonry fort in
the continental United States.
The castillo or castle was worth its weight in
gold to the inhabitants of the city in 1702
when Governor James Moore led his English
invaders down from South Carolina to attack
St. Augustine. The inhabitants withdrew into
the fort with their possessions and livestock
and even a 52 day siege could not force them
to come out. The city was burned, but the
Castillo de San Marcos did not fall.
The city faced English attack once more in
1740, but the Castillo again held strong.
Pleased with its success, the Spanish built a
second smaller fort at Matanzas Inlet. Also of
coquina - a sedimentary rock natural to the
area - Fort Matanzas stands today as well.
The availability of coquina from quarries
across the bay on Anastasia Island greatly
benefited the inhabitants of St. Augustine
during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of
the historic homes and structures seen in the
city today survive because they were built
using the rock.
Spain lost control of Florida to Great Britain in
1763 at the end of the Seven Years War
(French and Indian War). Since the colony did
not share the culture of its neighbors to the
north, however, it did not join with the thirteen
other American colonies in their war against
King George III.
St. Augustine remained the British capital of
East Florida during the American Revolution.
Captured American patriots were held in the
Castillo (called Fort St. Marks in English) and
the city served as a base for the invasion of
Georgia by British troops.
Spain aligned itself with the fledgling United
States during the war and regained control of
Florida in 1783. St. Augustine remained a
Spanish city until 1821, when the colony was
ceded to the United States. The old city was
briefly still capital under the U.S. flag, but lost
that status for the first time in almost 250
years when the seat of government was
moved to Tallahassee.
Already viewed as an ancient city by the time
the Stars and Stripes were raised above the
ramparts of the Castillo de San Marcos
(called Fort Marion by the Americans), St.
Augustine attracted tourists when much of
Florida was still the wilderness domain of the
The Confederate flag flew over the city from
1861-1862, but U.S. forces gained it back
without firing a shot. The only resistance
came from a group of ladies who chopped
down the flagpole at the St. Francis Barracks
so it could not be used to fly the U.S. flag.
Northern visitors are much more welcome in
the historic city today and tourism is the
engine of the local economy. A magnificent
array of historic sites, tours, restaurants,
accommodations, things to do and
attractions welcome guests to the old city.
To learn more, please follow the links in the
directory at the upper right of this page and
be sure to visit the official tourism website at
2015 marks the 450th anniversary of the
founding of St. Augustine. To learn more visit
Nation's Oldest City turns 450!
Fountain of Youth
St. Augustine legend holds that
Ponce de Leon tasted the water
from this small spring in hopes
it might be the Fountain of Youth.
Site of the First Fort
Archaeologists uncovered the
site of the original 1565 fort on
this grassy lawn at Fountain of
Youth Archaeological Park.
The Oldest House
The Gonzalez-Alvarez House
dates from the early 1700s and
is the oldest Spanish colonial
home in Florida.
The Fernandez-Llambias House
is among the many outstanding
examples of Spanish colonial
architecture in St. Augustine.