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The Forts in Justifiable Evil

"The defenses had served San Juan well. Like a giant rock standing tall in a turbulent sea, the city had beaten attack after fierce attack. Sir Francis Drake had attempted to capture it, anchoring a large fleet at the mouth of the bay, but had met unexpectedly ferocious resistance from the sanjuaneros. The coup de grace had occurred one night when Sir Francis, anchored far away from El Morro, had invited several officers to dine in his cabin. As they sat at the table, a cannonball fired by the fort's garrison had smashed through the wall of the room, killing several of the diners. Legend says that Drake had escaped unscathed, even though his seat had been shot from under him. A few days later, Sir Francis had sailed away, seeking easier prey." Justifiable Evil, p. 3.

San Felipe del Morro

Land view of El Morro Castle

Several of the forts that surround Old San Juan play a prominent role in Justifiable Evil, and they are all very real. Some massive, some smaller, they protected the ancient, walled city from every pirate, privateer and hostile nation who sought Spain's treasures as its galleons returned home laden with gold and gems. The Francis Drake story is true, except for the unverified account that his seat was shot from under his legs.

Foremost and most prominent in the defense of San Juan was San Felipe de El Morro, simply known to the locals as "El Morro". Sitting on a hill above the mouth to San Juan Bay like a coiled dragon, El Morro constituted a formidable barrier to any hostile ships that attempted to sail through, and an equally daunting fortification for any enemy forces that tried to approach it by foot.

The above photograph shows the area that any land invaders would have to cover under constant cannon and musket fire in order to approach El Morro. A moat surrounds the fort. Below, two views of El Morro, the first one of the fortress as seen from the bay, the second from one of the fort's walls facing the sea.

El Morro, from the mouth of the bay.

Part of the fort's massive defenses that face the bay and the sea.

All of the history and the descriptions of El Morro in the book -- including the reference to the shrapnel, still lodged in one of the fort's interior walls, that originated from one of the shells fired by a U.S. battleship in the Spanish-American War of 1898 -- are real. The only exception is the secret chamber containing old Spanish artifacts, said to exist under one of the fort's lower halls, where some of the book's characters (without revealing much of the plot) fight a pitched, fiery battle.

Piece of shrapnel of a shell fired by a U.S. battleship embedded inside a wall of the fort.

Castillo de San Cristobal

Keeping eternal vigil at the opposite side of the city, and facing both the Atlantic Ocean and the land east of San Juan, is El Morro's sister fortress, Fort San Cristobal.

A portion of San Cristobal, facing the sea.

As massive and impregnable as El Morro, San Cristobal is perched atop another hill on the northeast corner of the walled city of Old San Juan. From there the fortress, made of several rising, concentric walls, dominated the land approaches to the old city.

One of the entrances to Fort San Cristobal

Partial view from one of the battlements of San Cristobal, with a portion of Old San Juan and the bay visible in the background.

Like El Morro, all of the descriptions contained in Justifiable Evil are true to life, including some of the tunnels described there, which will be discussed more extensively in the blog dealing with the tunnels of San Juan. Even the cell where the captured park rangers were locked up by the terrorists is real (see photos below).

Corridor leading to the dungeons where the park rangers were locked up, as described in page 246 of Justifiable Evil: "Like most Spanish military facilities, San Cristobal contained several dungeons."

"One of the cells, located near the end of a tunnel that descended into the gloomy, windowless bowels of the fort, had become one of the central tourist attractions of the former garrison. It contained wonderfully detailed graffiti of masted ships, scratched into its walls by past cell dwellers."

Above, one of the top battlements of Fort San Cristobal.

Below, two photos of the concentric walls surrounding San Cristobal, designed to be used as "killing fields" when the enemy wandered into the space between them.

El Abanico (the Fan)

El Abanico, a small fort which is really an eastern extension of San Cristobal, also exists. However, the underground area under it and the hatch leading to it, described in the book, are fictional (at least, as far as I have been able to verify).

Below, some photos of El Abanico.

Fortin de San Geronimo del Boqueron

The "fortin", which means "small fort" in Spanish, guards the entrance to the Condado Lagoon. As the book describes, there is a cut in the rock below the west wall (the wall, not visible in the photo, that faces the Condado area in the background), where men may hide and not be seen from the buildings beyond. San Geronimo plays a vital part in the story.

Aerial view of San Geronimo

The tiny, square fortification is connected to the northwestern shore of the island of San Juan, as seen from the aerial photo above, and the photo below.

Gate to Fort San Geronimo

The fort's history is as real as the fort itself. San Geronimo, for example, was key in stopping in 1797 a British invasion involving more than sixty ships, and its tiny garrison sustained a continuous bombardment by the same British marines who later defeated Napoleon in Egypt.

(To be continued...)

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