Coat of Arms of Puerto Plata, granted in1508 by King Phillip II of Spain.
Coat of Arms of Puerto Plata, 1508 by King Phillip II of Spain.

The Fort San Felipe is a historic, 14th-century Spanish fortress built on a vantage point overlooking the bay, to protect the city`s seaport against pirate attacks. its construction was commissioned by King Phillip II of Spain in 1564, and completed in 1577. The fort is the only remnant of the 16th century left standing, due to the destruction of most of the old city during the restoration wars.

San Felipe Fortress has been the witness of many historical moments of importance to Puerto Plata and the DR. It was one of the battlefields of the Quasi War, fought between the United States and France from 1798 to 1800 over unpaid debts; Their navy were attacking each other`s merchant ships in the West Indies, in what is also called the “undeclared” war ( see also: The Battle of Puerto Plata Harbor ).

The building has 4 round, defensive, fortified towers in each corner of the second level terrace, with a center one at a higher floor, all having various cannons pointing in all directions. The entrance was built with a centered, open shaft that was booby trapped with spikes in the bottom and then filled with water, to draw the bridge as invaders entered, making them fall to their disgrace.

A PRISON & REFUGE

The Fort ( also called El Morro de puerto Plata ) was also used as a prison throughout history, most notably the case when Dominican forefather Juan Pablo Duarte, Juan Isidro Pérez and several other libertarians from the Trinitaria were jailed by Pedro Santana on August 27th, 1844 after being captured by the army in Jamao, Puerto Plata.

The fire and destruction of the Dominican Restoration War ( 1863-1865 )over the city prompted the use of the fortress as a refuge for several years. The building is built of stone and terracotta, with narrow windows built for defense. The upper level is an ample terrace flanked by the original cannons dating back to the 14th century, with beautiful vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and mountain scenery of Puerto Plata and its harbor.

THE MUSEUM

Turned into a museum since 1965, The interior of the fortress has several chambers that used to hold weapons and ammunition; today used as exhibit rooms with an important collection of items related to its history. The museum thresholds and doors have very low clearance, that makes visitors bend to enter; invaders heads were easy target as they were coming in.

Among the exhibits there are Taino Pottery, ancient coins, swords, cannon bullets, metal axes, machetes, military artifacts and info-graphs on the walls. Its collection spans the 18th and 19th centuries. La Fortaleza is the most valuable historic landmark in Puerto Plata, contrasting with the Victorian-era gingerbread homes and their pastel tones.

A renovation took place from 1972, and the museum reopened in 1983. The fort is perched on a hill, surrounded by spacious green areas that visitors use to sit down and relax enjoying the incredible views of the landscape. In 2017, the surroundings were turned into an entertainment complex that now includes terraces, playground, public facilities and a gorgeous amphitheater that has seen more than one famous performer since its opening.

La Puntilla is the name locals use for this area, and the imposing, sword wielding statue of General Gregorio Luperon riding his prancing horse is a reminder of the sacrifices taken to achieve independence. The museum is open to the public from 8:45 am to 4:45 pm, closed on Saturday. Their contact number is 809-261-6043. Visitors are provided with a tour guide and an audio device that will explain the history of the fortress in various languages.

 

The Fortress with Atlantic Ocean backdrop
The San Felipe Fortress, standing guard over the centuries.

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