Fort San Juan de Ulúa, Veracruz, Mexico
The old Spanish Fort San Juan de Ulúa still stands watch over the bustling port of Veracruz, Mexico, but it is no longer filled with many tons of silver and gold.
This fort was built in 1565 on the island where the Spanish first landed in their conquest of Mexico in 1518. And it was the last place held by Spain in Mexico. Although independence was granted in 1821. Spanish troops remained until 1825. For most of the 300 year period of Spanish rule, it was the main center of traffic for much of the treasure from Mexico, South America, and the orient.
Fort San Juan de Ulúa protected the city of Veracruz and the Spanish treasures from foreign nations and pirates. The fort has also been used as a prison and now is a tourist attraction with a very interesting museum. One part of the fort was even used as the Presidential Palace of Mexico. Presidents Benito Juarez and Venustiano Caranza lived in the Presidential Palace. However, many other prominent politicians spent their time as occupants of the prison.
The fort and the city of Veracruz have been invaded and occupied by both the French and the United States. The French occupied the fort in 1836 and again in 1863 during the time they installed Maximilian I as emperor. The United States occupied the fort and Veracruz during the Mexican-American War in 1848 and again in 1914 when protecting US oil interests during the Mexican Revolution.
San Juan de Ulúa was built with very thick walls. The idea was to withstand the heaviest cannon balls in an attack. The building material is unique because there was no local industry at that time to provide the typical materials such as brick that had been used in Europe. The solution was to use an abundant local material, Brain Coral from the local coral reefs. It made a durable and strong alternative.
The storage areas were built to match the capacity of the standard galleons in use at the time. Some of the rooms were painted to aid in storing the correct amount of gold or silver that could be loaded on a ship. Since the metals were very heavy, and could not be stacked too high without endangering the ship. Therefore, some rooms were a certain color up to a line at about 4 feet from the floor for gold and to about 6 feet from the floor for silver, which weighs less.
Gold and silver were not the only goods shipped from the Spanish colonies back to Spain. There were many other products including lumber, metals, gems, pearls, spices, sugar, tobacco, silk, porcelain, and ivory.
Some of the exotic goods came from the Far East by galleon from Manila in the Philippines to Acapulco on the west coast of Mexico. Then they traveled by mule train across Mexico to Veracruz.
Many people believe that more gold and silver was shipped from San Juan de Ulúa than from any other place on earth.
This historic fort is a fascinating place to visit. Maybe you will even encounter one of the ghosts who are said to haunt the dungeons and other areas. And if the fort looks familiar, you may have seen it in a very popular movie, Romancing the Stone, filmed in 1984.