As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
      Mexican Proverb


México is the most populous Spanish-
speaking country in the world. According to the latest statistics, México's total population is over 99 million. Mestizos, of Indian and Spanish blood), make up 60% of the population, followed by indigenous peoples  (30%), whites (9%), and other ethnic minorities  (1%).

Carnaval in Mazatlan

Visitors and locals scream, sing, shout and dance amid confetti and ribbons. Bands of all kinds play the infectious rhythms of the State of Sinaloa. And the food–oh, the food–camarones (shrimp) prepared in every way possible, washed down with ice cold Pacifico beer, for it’s Carnaval Time, Mazatlán’s biggest pachanga (fiesta). 
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March 12, 2006

by Bob Brooke

With all the competition from other beach resorts in Mexico, Acapulco’s crown as the queen of Mexican beach resorts had begun to fade. Recently, a new jewel–the restored Fuerte San Diego (Fort San Diego)–has been added that has brightened her crown considerably.

Over the years, the tired historic fort languished in the hot sun and drew a few visitors, who had had too much sun, away from the beaches. But after it’s recent magnificent restoration, visitors, especially those from arriving cruise ships, are making it a highlight of their visit.

The star-shaped San Diego Fort Museum, situated on a hill in old Acapulco, is the one remaining shred of history from Acapulco's early beginnings. Now this fine museum, directed by INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia), Mexico’s department of archaeological and historic preservation, illustrates Acapulco's past. The original rooms of the fort, now air-conditioned, contain unique, well-lit, professional exhibits depicting life in another era.

New Exhibits
The exhibits illustrate the Acapulco/China trade, in which ships left Acapulco laden with Mexican silver and evangelizing Spanish priests. The round trip to the Philippines took a year to complete and came to be called the "Manila galleon" or the Nao de China.

This trans-Pacific trade revolved around four main themes, and each is presented in its own exhibition room within the eight-foot-thick walls of the Fort of San Diego museum.

The "Manila Galleon" room describes the sailing ships, the maritime routes and the rudimentary navigation techniques used by 16th century Spanish sailors in pursuit of Asian treasure. The "Eastern Commerce" room explores the economic motivations behind the Manila galleon and contains antique samples of Chinese porcelain, large carved wooden cabinets from both East and West, as well as embroidered garments and ivory carvings.

"Pacific pirates" profiles Sir Francis Drake and tells the story of English and Dutch pirate raids on Spanish possessions and shipping on the West Coast, while "Evangelizing the East" relates how Jesuit and other Catholic missionaries in the Philippines successfully converted a country that today remains 83 percent Catholic. The room features an impressive collection of marble and wood carvings of religious motifs and icons commonly found in both Mexico and the Philippines.

The fort’s original tiled kitchen now displays a stove, utensils, and methods of cooking, as well as dried ingredients. The fort’s chapel has also been restored to its original look, complete with statues and paintings. A bookstore at the entrance offers a few books in English, but most publications are in Spanish.

A 15-minute introductory video in English on a large-screen T.V. help guide visitors through this important national museum. Individual exhibit rooms also contain smaller T.V.s with videos in Spanish with English subtitles. A glass floor shows visitors remains of the first fort in several rooms. A total of 11 exhibition rooms, plus one room for temporary exhibits, tell the story of the Nao de China.

History of Fort San Diego
In 1565, Friar Andres de Urdaneta, an excellent geographer and valiant seaman, discovered the direct route of return, or tournavuelta, from the Phillippines to the Port of Acapulco. Galleons left Acapulco in March or April arriving in June or July in Manila to avoid storm season in Southeast Asia, returning in July or August, taking advantage of favorable winds that allowed them to cross the sea of China, returning east across the Pacific arriving at Cape Mendocino in California, then turning south towards Acapulco.

On April 14 of 1579, Spanish King Phillip II designated Acapulco as only commercial port between New Spain and Asia. The port was intended to receive and to dispatch Manilla Galleons, as well as a few ships originating from Peru, Chile and Central America. From Acapulco, mules carried silks, spices and other exotic goods overland to Mexico City and then to Veracruz for shipment to Spain, while galleons moored in Acapulco Bay refilled their holds with silver and other Mexican products.

A singular building with one bastion was the first evidence of a fort in 1614. Dutch vessels led by Admiral Joris von Speilbergen tried entering Acapulco Bay. Viceroy Diego Fernandez de Cordoba, Marquis de Guadalacazar, ordered a fort built to protect the Bay. The idea was to build a castle or Fort to house residents and the ships crews chose the hill El Morro on which to build the fort, thus preventing the enemy from getting to shore. Signal fires warned the population of Villa de Acapulco, which had grown to over 12,000, to take cover within the fort upon impending danger.

The Viceroy commissioned Dutch engineer Adrian Boot to design the fortification in the shape of an irregular polygon, which be began to build in 1615 and completed in April 1617.

The building was unique by its design. It applied advanced architectural concepts, thus making it into a master work of the military engineering. Its somewhat pentagonal structure, consisting of numerous domed rooms about a central courtyard, permitted self-defense on all flanks. It housed 2,000 soldiers with provisions and ammunition for a year.

By1616, five bulwarks–named King, Duke, Marquis, Guadalacazar, and Viceroy–linked by ballustrade walls had been constructed. The fort became known as Fort San Diego after Patron Diego Fernandez de Cordoba. In 1624, Viceroy Don Rodrigo Pachero y Osirio, Marquis de Cenalvo ordered new works be added to the Fort upon his arrival in New Spain. Ten years later engineer Juan de la Torre proposed adding a moat to surround the fort.

In 1665 De Lagaspi founded a new road from Vera Cruz to Acapulco, where Indians loaded goods onto galleons which became known as chinas because people believed that all oceanic traffic across the Pacific traveled to China. By 1696, port traffic had increased and more modifications were made.

In 1766, engineer Jose Gonzalez pointed out the fort’s vulnerability of defense due to weak and short walls and nonfunctional bastions. However, that became a moot point, since a severe earthquake destroyed it in April 21, 1776. Spanish engineer Miguel Constanzo was put in charge of rebuilding it by the King and staked out the new five-sided "pentastar" fort in 1778. Taking five years to complete at a cost of $600,000 pesos, the new fort had sloping walls to deflect cannonballs and two large cisterns to collect rain water for use in the fort. It’s builders named the fort’s five bulwarks after saints–San Jose, San Antonio, San Luis, Santa Barbara and Concepcion.

After completion of the fort, warning salvos would alert the population to take cover in the fort’s parade grounds. Soldiers would then roll down wooden platforms which held the cannon. Others raised the drawbridge over the moat using chains.

Meals consisted of salted pork, green pozole, picaditas or squared gorditas made of corn. Cooks supplemented these staples with seafood like robalo, shrimp, and oysters, and tropical fruits like yellow papayas, limes, and mangoes. They added local flavors and spices including pepper, cinnamon, clove, red saffron, quajillo chili, garlic, cheese, chocolate to their dishes. Though Indian woman made the meals indoors, soldiers and workers ate them outdoors.

Though pirates never attacked the fort, soldiers patrolled along the ramparts watching for distant pirate ships. The occasional roar of cannon brought terror to the population of the small fishing village.

Fort San Diego fell to insurgent forces in 1813 during Mexico's War of Independence after a siege lasting several months. King Ferdinand II decommissioned the fort in 1816.

The Museo Historico de Acapulco within Fort San Diego is open from 10:30 A.M. 4:30 P.M., Tuesdays through Sundays. A small admission fee is charged. Fort San Diego also presents a new Sound and Light show entitled "The Silent Vigil" every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening in English at 8:00 P.M. and in Spanish at 9:00 P.M. Historic images telling the story of Acapulco are projected on a screen of water flowing down one of the outside walls of the fort. A donation of 100 pesos person is requested.


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