Castillo de San Fernando
Figueres, Spain

Constructed: 1753 - 1766
Used by: Spain
Conflicts in which it participated:
Napoleonic Wars
Also known as:
Castell Sant Ferran;
La Real Plaza de Guerra
de San Fernando

At the beginning of Ferdinand VI of Spain (1713-1759)'s rule in 1751, frequent French incursions into northern Spain prompted the decision to build this really awesome starfort.

The Pyrenees, the mountain chain that separates France and Spain to the west, had been fortified to varying degrees of success for hundreds of years, and a major Spanish fort had been   handed   over   to   France as a
condition of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659: This treaty redrew the border, and the little Spanish town of Le Perthus, with its commanding mountaintop fortification, became French. Vauban himself was put in charge of the refortification process, and the impressive Fort Bellegarde was the result.

The first stone of the Castillo de San Fernando (named of course for Ferdinand VI) was laid on December 13, 1753. The fort complex was designed by Don Juan Martín Zermeño (1690-1773), a Royal Engineer who would go on to command Spain's Military Engineers from 1769 until his death.

Zermeño built the Castillo to house 6,000 troops (five infantry batallions and five cavalry squadrons), with cisterns to hold 9,000,000 liters of water...all surrounded by 5km of moats. The fort is huge, and remains even today the largest "monument" in Catalonia.

The Castillo de San Fernando was lauded as one of the outstanding examples of fortification of its period: At one site it's described as "the largest ramparted fortress in 18th century Europe." Having the biggest, most impregnable fortress, however, is probably something like being considered the "fastest gun in the west": Somebody's gonna have to try to take you on.

In 1794 and 1808 the troops of Revolutionary France and then Napoleon (1769-1821) showed up, and in both cases those garrisoning the largest ramparted fortress of 18th-century Europe surrendered the thing that was supposed to be undefeatable without a fight.

In 1811 the Spanish managed to sneak up on the Castillo and take it back by yelling SORPRESA!!, but by August the fort was back in French hands, after a three-month siege: Finally somebody got to drink some of those 9,000,000 liters of water while under siege!

The Naopleonic Wars shook up a whole lot of the European establishment in a great many ways. After the Mad Corsican was finally put down for good in 1815, the crowned heads of Europe (led by Russia's Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825)) formed the Holy Alliance, a group of monarchies dedicated to perpetuating "the mundane institutions and adjust their imperfection"...which meant ensuring that both a monarchial system of government and non-secular Christianity remained at the center of all things European.

When a liberal movement unseated Spain's King Ferdinand VII (1784-1833) in 1820, France's King Louis XVIII (1755-1824) was champing at the bit to smash over the border and restore the living hell out of everything and everybody. While the Holy Alliance (Russia, Prussia and Austria) wouldn't grant him holy permission to do so, the Quadruple Alliance (Britain, France, the Netherlands and Austria) said HECK yeah go for it, Louis my man.

Thus in 1823 we had French troops yet again causing the Castillo of our current interest to capitulate. What I have not found is a single historical instance in which the Castillo's garrison bravely and successfully fought off an attack. Any attack.
Some of the Castillo's countermines and other lower tunnels are flooded, either by design or leaky cistern. A Cathedral of the Water tour is available at the fort, in which folks who have "difficulty to stay indoors" are urged not to participate.

In the first few months of 1939, the forces of Francisco Franco (1892-1975) blitzed their way through Catalonia, crushing all Republican resistance. The last session of the Republican Parliament was held at the Castillo de San Fernando on February 8, 1939...and was ended with a hearty bombing.

The Castillo was primarily used as a prison both before and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and continued in this function until 1997. Today a dizzying array of guided tours are available at the fort, including underground waterway explorations in zodiac-style boats. Most of the artifacts of the military museum previously housed at the Castell de Mountjuïc in Barcelona have recently been moved to the Castillo de San Fernando, which is sure to make the Castillo's museum worth a visit or three!