LIFESTYLE

St. Augustine, The 501-Year-Old City That Preserves Florida's Latino Spirit

When people come to visit Florida, they come for the sandy beaches, the warm weather and the amusement parks. But they forget that there is also a rich cultural history surrounding them.

One of the first cities explored by the Spanish conquistadors in the Sunshine State was St. Augustine, which was discovered by Juan Ponce de Leon on Easter in in 1513. He named the land “Pascua Florida,” which means "Flowery Easter" (after Spain's "Feast of the Flowers" Easter celebration).

It also became known as “The Spirit of Latin America,” a spirit that once fueled Ponce De Leon’s bravery to venture into unknown locations, his determination to endure against the odds and his ability to adapt through innovation.

Now, 500 years later, St. Augustine's vintage spirit is being recognized by a campaign titled “Vuelve Donde Nació Nuestro Espíritu” launched by the Visitors & Convention Bureau of Florida’s Historic Coast.

“We invite Latinos to our beautiful city where the first historical remnants of the birth of the U.S. Latino spirit can be found on almost every corner,” said Richard Goldman, executive director of the Visitors & Convention Bureau. 

“St. Augustine is the oldest, continually occupied settlement in the United States, founded by another Spaniard, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, in 1565. In fact, Menendez’s arrival sparked the first Thanksgiving in St. Augustine, 55 years before the Thanksgiving in Plymouth.”

Visitors to St. Augustine will find a rich Hispanic heritage in the many attractions and tours that have made the city one of the National Geographic Traveler’s 2013 “must see” locations in the world, and Forbes magazine’s list of 10 most beautiful cities in the United States. 

Some of St. Augustine attractions are:

- Castillo de San Marcos: This massive fortress took more than 20 years to build and helped protect Spain’s treasure fleets from the English and pirates. It was designed by Ignacio Daza, a Spanish engineer living in Cuba, and is the oldest masonry fort in the United States. It was designated as America’s first national monument.

- Fountain of Youth Archeological Park: Archeologists have discovered that this is the actual site of the original Spanish settlement in St. Augustine of 1565 where Ponce de Leon went to search for a "fountain of youth." The experience includes Spanish colonial military cannon firings, an authentic 16th century boat works and exhibits demonstrating how the Spanish explorers navigated the seas.

- Plaza de la Constitución: This was established in 1573 and the town square was named for its monument to the Spanish constitution of 1812. When the monarchy was restored, all such monuments in Spanish territories were ordered to be destroyed. However, St. Augustine’s governor refused. The original monument that stands here today is believed to be the only one remaining in the world.

So if you’re taking a trip to Florida anytime soon, don’t leave out St. Augustine — you will learn a thing or two about the Latino roots of Florida and the nation.

Frank Diez is a College Associate at Fox News Latino.

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