Fortín Conde Mirasol is located on a hill with a view of the Isabel Segunda village in Vieques, island-municipality located nine miles east of Puerto Rico. This small fort is a typical example of the Spanish fortifications of the 19th century, which consists of a main building and a masonry wall system. The walls vary in height according to the natural contour of the hill it rests on. On top, the wall’s width varies from 30 to 36 inches and at the base it is 6 to 8 feet wide. The entire system is 150 feet long and 70 feet wide. In addition, it has two tanks for collecting rain water.
Vieques’ defense had been a topic for debate since the beginning of the 19th century because this territory had been coveted by the British and other Europeans due to its strategic location between Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles. Once Vieques was inhabited by Spaniards in 1811, it became a target for pirate and insurgent attacks. Governor and Captain General, Santiago Méndez Vigo (1841-1844), motivated by these concerns, prepared a plan for developing the island, which, among other things, took into account its defense.
The next Governor and Captain General of Puerto Rico, Rafael de Aristegui y Vélez, who was known as Conde de Mirasol, understanding Vieques’ strategic importance, ordered the construction of the small fort in 1845 which would be directed by engineer Diego Gálvez. The defense system would consist of four pieces of artillery to defend the port and a building that could accommodate a garrison of fifty men. However, the construction of the fort faced two obstacles: the first consisted of Puerto Rico’s government oppositor to using funds for military construction in Vieques. The second was related to the diplomatic war that broke out during that period between Madrid, London, and Copenhagen regarding the rights that each country claimed over Vieques. Despite the opposition, construction continued until 1855, but the walls were never completed because of lack of funds.
Despite concerns of Spanish rulers regarding the British, Danish, revolutionaries, and pirates, the fort’s cannons were never used against those enemies. During the second half of the 19th century, the fort’s main function was the prison. Some cases of imprisonment included foreign workers, day laborers who rebelled against land owners, and political prisoners from Santo Domingo, among others. The fort was used as a prison until the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1898, the United States invaded Puerto Rico. That year, on September 21, U.S. soldiers took the fort and raised their flag. From 1903 to 1907, the fort was the venue of the first magnetic and seismologic observatory in the Caribbean, under U.S. administration. During the mid-1940s, the municipal government abandoned the fort. This historical monument deteriorated quickly because of lack of use. However, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture —established in the 1950s— conducted a series of minor projects to stabilize the structure. In 1989, the Institute began to restore this valuable monument, which ended with the inauguration of the facilities of the Museo Fortín Conde de Mirasol on August 31, 1991.
Adapted by Grupo Editorial EPR
Original source: Robert Rabín, El Fortín Conde de Mirasol: Notas sobre su historia, 1990. Notes for the history of Fortín Conde de Marisol and the island of Vieques, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 08, 2014.
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