For nearly 350 years, the San Juan de Ulúa Fort in Veracruz served as the primary military stronghold of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. Located on an island discovered by Juan de Grijalva in 1518 and built and added to between 1535 and 1843, the fort was once considered the most secure and technologically advanced in the New World, serving as both a port of entry for Christian missionaries and a critical piece of the Spanish West Indies coastal defense system. Significant portions of the complex of structures that make up the fort have survived intact¬, including the towers, dungeons, a governor's palace, parade grounds, and a cemetery. However, most of the complex long suffered from deterioration as a result of its sandy site in a highly polluted and busy harbor. The expansion of the navigational canal, settling and wake turbulence from passing tankers caused severe cracks in its foundations and weakened the structure. Some structures, such as the bulwarks and ramparts that face the navigation channel, were threatened with collapse, and the loss of the protective lime renders accelerated the deterioration of the exposed coral stone walls.
1996, 2000 and 2002 World Monuments Watch
The San Juan de Ulúa Fort was declared a National Historic Monument by President Adolfo López Mateos in 1962 and it was placed on the Watch in 1996, 2000, and 2002. The National Institute of Anthropology and History developed a comprehensive conservation plan that was implemented between 2000 and 2004. In 2005, a 300-meter-long protective steel wall along the undermined foundation of the bay side walls was completed. WMF funded the restoration of the Luneta de Santa Caterina and the Revellín de San José, which included the removal of sludge and contaminants deposited on the seabed and foundation of the structure, cleaning and consolidation of interior and exterior walls, and structure stabilization. Today, the complex functions as a museum, art gallery, restoration school, and auditorium. In 2004, WMF organized an international symposium of fortifications that featured San Juan de Ulúa and its comprehensive restoration program.
The San Juan de Ulúa Fort is one of the most renowned fortifications in the Americas. It played major roles in both the beginning and closing stages of Spanish rule in Mexico. The building also served as naval workshops, barracks and a prison. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it served as Mexico’s presidential headquarters. Proceedings from WMF-sponsored 2004 Fortification Meeting were published by UNESCO World Heritage Center.