The Ocean as Sculptor: The Old Forts of Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

On most coasts the ocean batters and tears down rock indiscriminately, so that along an extended coastline like that of the Western United States sea stacks jut out of the water here, eight-hundred foot cliffs tower over the Pacific there, while elsewhere, in coves hidden in the shadows beneath precipices and along gentle shorelines that attract bathers by the millions, the ocean laps at sandy beaches, some white, some brown, some black and grey and striated with purple or strewn with smooth pebbles.  But here, on the north shore of Old San Juan, in Puerto Rico, atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic ocean, there meander a series of walls eighteen feet thick, connecting two of the largest old Spanish forts in the Western Hemisphere: El Castillo del Morro and el Castillo de San Cristobal. 

Watch Tower near el Castillo del Morro

It would be easy to imagine that human minds dreamed up these forts and that human hands quarried their rocks, shaped them, and fit them into place with an eye toward repelling invaders.  But although this of course explains the presence of these massive fortifications on a lonely island in the Caribbean, the ramparts and towers of Old San Juan are so massive that we might as easily imagine that the ocean itself chose to direct its erosive energies to sculpting a work of art rather than to pulverizing an island; that it hurled so many crashing waves here, sprinkled so much salty spray there, and through patience and care crafted watch-towers and cannon niches, erected walls and dug out tunnels.  No lonely fins of stone rise out of these waters; random outcroppings of rock do not line these shores.  Only order reigns.  The Atlantic whittles away at its project to this day, showing off its delicate touch, its million white hands that now caress, now pound, now pull back from their creation so that the ocean that guides them may admire its elegant work.

More to come about Puerto Rico.  I hope everyone is having a good weekend!

El Castillo del Morro


View of Catholic cemetery from el Castillo del Morro


Watch Tower at el Castillo del Morro

View down the coast from el Castillo de San Cristobal

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

10 Responses to The Ocean as Sculptor: The Old Forts of Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

  1. Great photos. I really need to go to the seashore soon.

  2. wanderingamy says:

    I have been pondering the idea of a trip to Puerto Rico this summer, and I think your photos just sold me. Great shots!

    • I’m so glad! You can’t go wrong. There’s so much that’s so easily accessible in such a small area: beaches, forts, history, mountains, rain forests, giantic radio telescopes (the one from Goldeneye–James Bond). I really wish I could have spent more time there. I’ll be back!

  3. I loved the pictures and the article was great. I enjoyed your writing and look forward to reading more from you 🙂

  4. skippingstones says:

    I like your idea of the ocean as artist – it should be a poem. It probably already is, somewhere. The pictures are great, too!

  5. Just tweeted your post and highlighted the photos! The watch tower is captivating. Thanks for sharing these great shots!

  6. kathychicago says:

    Yanni is going to be performing “LIVE” December 16th & 17th 2011 at El Morro. A DVD will be taped on the dates listed and released in early 2012.

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