Wednesday, September 14, 2005

St. Augustine

The St. Augustine Town Plan Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, encompasses the site of the oldest continuously occupied European and African American settlements in the United States. Part of Ponce de León's 1513 claim to La Florida, St. Augustine was the site of Spanish military base established in 1565 by Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The town of St. Augustine soon grew around the fort and became the seat of Spanish power in Florida. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, free blacks and slaves found Florida a haven--the Spanish Crown granted refuge to blacks if they embraced Catholicism. Today the district retains the distinctive plan typical of a 16th century Spanish Colonial walled town. The colonial buildings in the district date from 1703 to 1821 period. Among the most noted buildings in the district are the Plaza de la Constitución, the colonial community's focal point (King Street), the Oldest House, a traditional Spanish Colonial residence built circa 1706 and the oldest surviving residence in St. Augustine (14 St. Francis Street), the Basilica Cathedral of St. Augustine, which incorporates the 1797 parish church and is one of the oldest Catholic religious buildings in the U.S. (36 Cathedral Place), the 1883 Villa Zorayda, an exotic Moorish Revival residence with courtyards and towers (King Street), and the Gothic Revival style Stanbury Cottage (St. George Street). The Castillo de San Marcos, built 1672-1695, served primarily as an outpost of the Spanish Empire, guarding St. Augustine, protecting the sea route for treasure ships returning to Spain. Although the Castillo has served a number of nations throughout its history, it has never been taken by military force. During the 18th century, the Castillo went from Spanish control to British and back to the Spanish , who remained in power in Florida until the area was purchased by the United States in 1821.The parish of St. Augustine was established in 1594 and is the oldest parish in the United States. The present Cathedral of St. Augustine, a National Historic Landmark, was constructed in 1797 in the Spanish Mission style. After a fire gutted the church in 1887, it was restored by New York City architect James Renwick, who added the Spanish Renaissance style bell tower. The oil paintings representing the stations of the cross are copies of ones in the Vatican's Pauline Chapel. The Cathedral also has beautiful Victorian stained glass windows and altars of sculpted marble.


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