CHASING THE MAP

The Fortín Conde De Mirasol, “The Fort”

I’m a history buff, so it was a no-brainer when it came to touring the last fort ever built by the Spanish.

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No trip to Vieques Island is complete without a visit to the Fortín Conde de Mirasol. Not only does it offer spectacular 360 degree views of the hills and ocean, but it’s the cultural center of Vieques Island as well.

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The fort is open to the public from Wednesday – Sunday between the hours of 10 am – 4 pm. There is no admission fee, but donations are gratefully accepted.

Housed inside the fort, you’ll find a vast collection of prehistoric Caribbean artifacts which chronicle the history of the original inhabitants of Vieques. There’s also a plethora of information about the sugar industry which once thrived here, the US Naval occupation of the island, and the era of the Spanish colonization.

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The fort, built over the course of 10 years starting in 1845, was constructed to accommodate the island’s military force to establish Spanish control over the region, and to protect the people from the pirates which sailed the waters around Vieques. You’ll find many cannons scattered about the walls of the property, facing the sea. The fort also served as the island’s jail and housed defiant and fugitive slaves from the sugar plantations as well as separatists fighting for Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain.

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The United States government took over the fort around 1900, as they were in control of Vieques by that time. They used the fort mostly as a jail until the 1940’s, when the fort was abandoned and fell into great disrepair. Like many projects, many attempts were made to restore the fort to its previous glory, but were unsuccessful. Finally, in 1989, restoration began, and was completed in 1991.

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I enjoyed my time walking around the manicured grounds, snapping many pictures of the fort, the cannons, and the stunning views of Isabel Segunda and the ocean beyond.

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I also took a great amount of time examining the exhibits inside the fort, and reading about the history of the island. I think it’s really important to get a good feel for the places in which I travel. The past is as interesting as the present.

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I also had the chance to speak with Robert Rabin, the curator of the fort. He invited me into his office to sit and chat about the fort, the Puerto Ferro Archaeological Site, Vieques’ history, and the Viequenese people of today. He’s a wealth of knowledge and clearly loves what he is doing at the fort. He’s glad to answer your questions, and to provide other sightseeing and  restaurant suggestions as needed.

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There’s also a small gift shop located on the main floor of the fort, which carries souvenirs and local arts and crafts. You’ll also discover a rather large collection of books about the history of both Puerto Rico and Vieques.

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While I was there, an art exhibition on the top floor was being prepared by a local artist and his team. The Fort Museum often features a variety of exhibits including local poetry, photographs, and sculpture, making its a great place to enjoy and appreciate the arts.

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It’s a narrow and windy road to the top, but it’s worth the adventure of finding the fort. When in the town of Isabel, take a right at the far right corner (on the side of the government buildings) of the plaza, and follow the signs for the fort up the hill. Enter the gate and park at the top, right next to the fort. It’s an experience truly not to be missed.

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