Who Built This Lookout?

Nearly twenty years ago, we spent our honeymoon in Puerto Rico. They call it the isle of enchantment, and we agree it’s a wonderful place. A key landmark of San Juan is Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the fortress known as El Morro. We spent an afternoon walking around taking cutesy pictures of each other in the passageways and the dungeon.

El Morro 1999 RC
Rebecca at El Morro  Photo Credit: Evan Wedell

See below for a clip of what the famous guard towers, las garitas, looked like then:


E and El Morro 1999 Guardaria
Garita at Castillo San Felipe el Morro and publicity-shy hubby’s left sleeve   photo credit: Rebecca Cuningham

Last month, I was looking at the Rebecca Goes Rendezvous blog (she and I share our first name and a love for travel). She had traveled to the island of Malta and her pictures were beautiful. I saw her pic of the historic location of St. Michael’s Fortress and was struck at the shape of the guard tower. It reminded me immediately of the garitas from El Morro. I wrote a comment about it on her page. Then I started wondering, was their architecture a coincidence? Or was there a connection to discover?

I looked up the date of construction for San Felipe del Morro; it was around 1539. The fortification was key to Spanish defense of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Then I checked on Malta. On that island there are numerous forts and walls. I found information on St. Michael’s Fortress (San Miguel) and discovered it was built beginning in 1551, when it was a Spanish territory. I didn’t realize the Spanish were in Malta. Yet, thinking upon it further, Carlos I was King of Spain and Naples at that time, aka the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V!

Guard Tower which protected San Miguel Fortress in Malta, Photo credit: Rebecca Goes Rendezvous.

The Order of the Knights of St John (La Orden de los Caballeros de San Juan), wanted to defend Europe against the Ottoman Empire and saw Malta as a key point in the Mediterranean to do so. Carlos V gave them permission to use the island to protect his territories from the Ottomans. The Caballeros built the fort at San Miguel that repelled the attack successfully. Il-gardjola, the guard tower pictured above is a famous feature of the stronghold. The eye and the ear carvings are said to represent keeping a good watch over Malta. The wall and guard tower are physical mementos of the St. Michael Fort. In 1921, the garrison was replaced by a school and clock tower, and now Il-gardjola is part of the gardens and a tourist destination.

Two islands, 5000 miles apart, share history and very similar iconic guard towers. Sometimes we can believe our eyes; there was a concrete connection, Spain. Olé! Both guard towers were key technology in the Spanish defense of their islands. As a reminder of history, it is heartening to see Il-gardjola preserved, and a garita of El Morro beautifully restored. See end photo for the updated look. Wish I had taken it myself, but we haven’t returned…we’ll see what the future may hold for more cutesy pictures at El Morro…

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé!  -Rebecca

Photo source: http://nemcok.sk/?pic=22149, Nemcok Family Website
Rebecca Cuningham

12 thoughts on “Who Built This Lookout?

  1. Thanks for the link! Your post really was fascinating. It’s great to see that you’re passionate about cross-cultural architecture, and it’s true that our world is more connected through history and culture than we’d thought, even if thousands of miles away!

    Liked by 1 person

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