SAN JUAN – Puerto Ricans and Spaniards have joined forces to continue with the restoration of San Geronimo de Boqueron Fort, the island’s smallest fortification but considered the most important; it was rebuilt in the 18th century and defended the capital city of San Juan for hundreds of years.
Architect Juan Vera of the Council of Nautical Archaeology at the Puerto Rico Institute of Culture, along with another Puerto Rican, Ismael Rodriguez, and the Spaniards Rafael Gomez Aguilar and Manuel Minero, are in charge of the restoration.
In an interview with EFE, Vera said that 2007 saw the start of the cleaning and reconstruction work of what he considered “the altar of Puerto Ricanism” because of the events that occurred there, particularly the British invasion of 1797.
Gomez, for his part, told EFE that working on restoring the fortress – which he has done for five hours every Friday for at least the past four months – makes him the “happiest guy in the world,” because he feels “privileged” working on a fort used by the Spanish army as a military defense post.
Gomez, 39, said it was Minero who invited him to join the cleaning crew at the small fort, a structure that he “hadn’t the slightest idea” what it was until he got there the first time and found it “sad, poor and full of trash,” but today it’s very different.
Diego Menendez, governor of the island between 1582 and 1593, fortified the simple construction at Boqueron Point and installed artillery there to protect the second entrance to San Juan Bay.
The original construction defended San Juan from British attacks by Sir Francis Drake in 1595 and Sir George Clifford in 1598.
The small fort was later rebuilt when a soldier of Irish origin, Alejandro O’Reilly, came to the island in the mid-18th century to reorganize the army and improve the defensive structures.
Later on in the century when England lost the 13 colonies that became the United States, it decided to concentrate on the conquering the Caribbean.
Its ambition reached the point of offering to return Gibraltar to Spain in exchange for Puerto Rico, but the Spanish government refused to accept the offer “because of the geographical importance” of the Caribbean island, Vera said.
England, for its part, was not satisfied with the Spanish government’s decision and sent a large invasion force to Puerto Rico led by Ralph Abercromby, with more than 14,500 troops against 6,411 in the local military.
The fort had five cannons on the second floor, and the height of the structure meant a cannonball could be fired at such an angle that it would ricochet off the water, hit an enemy boat at the waterline and sink it.
“If we had lost the battle of 1797, it would have been a different story,” Vera said.