Monday, February 29, 2016

17th and 18th Century Graffiti

Vincent at the Castillo San Cristobal, the largest fortress in the walled city of San Juan, Puerto Rico

This is a dungeon cell, with an open window in the castle wall at the end of the passage.

This tunnel system is part of the Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Off one side of the main tunnel is a dungeon where prisoners, pirates, and political dissenters were jailed.  In one cell Vincent photographed the remains of some 17th century graffiti.  Experts believe that a naval officer must have been the artist of the five ships scratched into the plaster because the level of detail in the ship rigging is very accurate. The graffiti is mostly Spanish, but also English and French. 

The recognizable Spanish word mierda  ( in English this translates to "shit") was scratched by an unfortunate prisoner inside the dungeon off tunnel 1A in San Cristobal.  

There are several large and small fortresses and castles as part of the defensive system of San Juan.  They were built between 1539 and the 19th century.  You can find both linguistic and figurative graffiti on the walls of these forts.  The written graffiti is in several languages, and the drawings include shops, soldiers, horses and other animals.   The scholarly paper described below is a report on this graffiti and other graffiti found in the forts around San Juan.

We were fascinated with the graffiti, and by the fact that it has survived the ages in a fortress built in the 1600s.  This dungeon cell is also exposed to the elements by a large open window that overlooks the waves crashing onto the rocks at the foot of the castle walls.  All sorts of tropical humidity, rain, hurricanes, and other adverse weather have not faded these drawings and words.

The National Park Service gives guided tunnel lantern tours several times a week at Castillo San Cristobal.  Otherwise, the tunnels are open for self guided tours during the regular National Park hours.

This is the main passage of tunnel 1A under San Cristobal
fortress.  The dungeon cell can be seen on the left.

For the truly curious:

"Historical Ship Graffiti on the Walls of San Juan's Spanish Defense System: An Interim Report", by Isabell C. Rivera Collazo, The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, (2006), Volume 35, pages         (available online at   )

Wikipedia article Castillo San Cristobal

A five minute video tour of Castillo San Cristobal 


Published under a Creative Commons License
Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "17th and 18th Century Graffiti", Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 29, 2016, ( accessed [access date]).

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