Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Plaza: Constitution Monument
Title: Plaza de la Constitucion
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: Plaza de la Constitucion The Archaeology of One of St. Augustine's Oldest Landmarks
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Plaza: Constitution Monument
Physical Description: Research notes
Language: English
Publication Date: 1996
Physical Location:
Box: 8
Divider: Plaza - General Info.
Folder: Plaza: Constitution Monument
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
Plaza de la Constitucion (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Constitution Plaza (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine
Coordinates: 29.892493 x -81.312335
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095508
Volume ID: VID00030
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text

Gonzalo Mendez de Canzo,
governor of Spanish La Florida,
started it all in 1598 when he
wrote to his king, Felipe III: "I
cause them to build a plaza."
Canzo was of the opinion that
prior to his arrival in St. Aug-
ustine in 1596, the town was
with ;in official n!a-a. Ever
since that declaration, the plaza
has been a recognizable land-
mark. In the 18th century the
plaza was referred to as the
Plaza de Armas (central plaza).
In 1813, its name was changed
to Plaza de la Constitucidn in
recognition of Spain's adoption
of a constitutional monarchy.

By establishing a plaza with its
corresponding street layouts,
Canzo followed guidelines set
forth by the Spanish Royal
Cedulas (ordinances) of 1573
for town planning and devel-
opment in the Americas. These
ordinances provided that the
plaza was to be oblong in shape,
with its length not less than one
and one-half times its width, and
its size proportionate to the
population of the community.
If the town was situated on the
sea coast, as is the case for St.
Augustine, then the plaza was to
be located at the landing place
of the port. Within the plaza
Canzo built a market structure
or "house" where people could
bring their produce and sell fish
and meat using a system of
weights and measures, the first

of its kind in what is now the
United States.

Throughout Spain's colonial
empire, plazas were the focal
point of the community. They
were the public square in a city
or town where people con-
d,'l.qcted !;,:-,,: snci!ized. nd
where important community
events and celebrations
occurred. In St. Augustine, the
plaza also was used as a military
parade ground where troops
were drilled. Plazas were
generally surrounded by impor-
tant governmental, religious,
and private buildings, and St.
Augustine was no exception.
The Mariano de !a Rocque Map
of 1788 (Figure 1) shows the
configuration of the plaza and
its relationship to some of the
community's more important
structures (such as the guard-
house, the governor's house, the
site of the cathedral, and the
treasury building) during the late
1700s. The arrangement of St.
Augustine's plaza, streets, and
surrounding buildings conforms
to the Spanish Royal Cedulas of

Archaeology: What Were We
Looking For?

Before Canzo's arrival, St.
Augustine had been in existence
for 31 years. Initially, the town
was situated in what is now the
Fountain of Youth Park and the

cemetery ofNombre de Dios.
Within six years of its founding
in 1565, residents were forced
to abandon their original settle-
ment in favor of a more secure
location away from the native
Timucua Indians. They opted
for an area that is now part of
th-- down,-town a,-ea, bet-we:,-en ";s
plaza on the north and Bridge
Street to the south and from the
bayfront on the east to St.
George Street on the west.
Within the area, nine residential
blocks were established as was a
church/cemetery and a large
council house. (The church/
cemetery is under what is now
the area of the historic Military
Hospital and Potter's Wax Mu-
seum.) Approximately 200 feet
north of the church were the
fourth and then fifth forts of St.
Augustine. In between, undevel-
oped land was thought to have

Both historians and archae-
ologists have hypothesized that
Canzo's plaza was situated with-
in that area of land that was
vacant (i.e., between the fort
and church). This assumption
is based on the study of the
historical documents, including
the Boazio Map of 1586, and
limited archaeological investiga-
tions. Because plazas are tradi-
tionally open areas of land, it
would be expected that little, if
any, archaeological deposits
would exist in the area that is

Figure 1 The plaza of St. Augustine as it appeared on the Manano de la Rocque Map of
1788 Structures surrounding the plaza include the Governor's house (29), the proposed
site of the cathedral (30), the Treasury (33), the guardhouse and butcher shop (31/32), and

a temporary church (27).
now incorporated by the Plaza
de la Constitucitn. The excep-
tions would be locations that
were known to contain 18th-
century historical features (such
as the guardhouse, situated
beneath the public market, or
the unfinished church, located
toward the southwest corner of
the plaza). To determine if
Canzo's plaza was situated in an
undeveloped area and whether
the plaza remained open after its
establishment required archae-
ological testing.

Archaeology: Why and How
Did We Do It?

With the City of St. Augus-
tine's renovation of the plaza

came an opportunity to deter-
mine whether or not the plaza
contained any archaeological
remains and, if so, the scope
of those remains. The investiga-
tion was predicated on the City's
Archaeological Preservation
Ordinance. The City is one of
six municipalities in the United
States that has such an ordi-
nance, which requires that
archaeological investigations
take place prior to or during
construction activities. Archae-
ological efforts in the Plaza de
la Constitucidn were a response
to the installation of under-
ground utilities and the replace-
ment of existing sidewalks by
crews from the City's Public
Works Department.

The City Archaeologist and
volunteers from the St. Augus-
tine Archaeological Association
spent more than 2,500 person
hours during 18 weeks (between
August 1995 and August 1996)
investigating the plaza. Most of
the work was concentrated in
areas that were to be disturbed
by the installation of under-
ground utilities, although areas
outside the impact zones also
were studied. We excavated
150 post holes and 21 test pits.
Post holes were first excavated
to obtain an idea as to what lay
buried beneath the existing
ground surface. Test units were
used to explore those locations
thought to contain significant
archaeological features (such as
wells and building foundations)
discovered during the post hole
survey. In addition, the trenches
excavated by City work crews
were monitored for any further
archaeological deposits that
were unearthed. It is estimated
that approximately 6% of the
total plaza area was either
monitored or tested for archae-
ological remains.

The Plaza de la Constitucin 's
Buried Past

Contrary to the assumptions
that the plaza had been an open,
undeveloped area of land prior
to and after its founding, our
investigations uncovered a
plethora of archaeological
remains consisting of artifacts
(i.e., the pieces of trash that
people leave behind) and
features (i.e., wells, trash pits,
building foundations, and post
holes). The total quantity of
artifacts recovered probably
exceeds 50,000 items--most of

these associate with the historic
occupation of St. Augustine. A
small quantity of fiber-tempered
pottery was found, however,
indicating that native Americans
utilitized the area 3,000 to 4,000
years ago. More than 125
archaeological features were
documented during the course
of excavation and monitoring.
The features date from the late
1500s to late 1800s, with the
majority associated with the late
1500s--a period during which
the plaza was thought to have
been an open, undeveloped area
based on historical information.
This 16th-century occupation
was found to be buried through-
out the area that is now the
Plaza de la Constituci6n.

One piece of tantalizing
information uncovered from the
16th-century features was the
distribution of wells. Of the 12
wells documented in the plaza,
all of which were sources of

potable water for the town
inhabitants, 9 are either kn
or suspected to date during
late 1500s based on ceramic
information. These 9 wells
found to be evenly spaced
across the east-west axis o
plaza at intervals of approx
mately 44 ft. This distance
conforms to the width mea
ments for 16th-century col
Spanish lots, which measure
by 88 ft. The pattern in th
distribution of wells suggest
that the plaza originally ma
have been the site of a resi
tial blockss. In addition t(
these wells, the remains of
century structures, represei
by post holes and concentr
of burnt daub, also were d
mented throughout the pla
Daub is a mud-based comp
that was applied to both th
interior and exterior walls
Spanish and native Americ.
houses Several of the post
also were found to contain



ed 44


remnants of burnt posts.
Ceramic artifacts and animal
bones recovered from the
various 16th-century features
are indicative of domestic refuse
and suggest that this area of
town was of a more well-to-do
nature than those residences to
the south. It is possible that the
16th-century archaeological
evidence recovered in the plaza
corresponds to either an expan-
sion or movement in the 1580s
of the town closer to the fort.
Historical documents state that
by 1585, houses had encroached
to within 100 to 150 ft of the
fort, which was a short distance
north of the town.

)cu- After the 16th-century occu-
za. pation, there is a dramatic
ound decrease in the quantity of
e archaeological features docu-
of mented. Instead of features
an being scattered throughout the
holes plaza area, as was the case for
the the 16th century, later features
appear to be concentrated into
specific locations. Outside these
locations, the plaza appears to
have been swept clean of debris
as evidenced by a compacted
soil lens found in several of the
test units

Some of the later uses evident
S in the plaza were known based
on historical evidence. For
example, the east end of the
plaza contained building founda-
tions and floors associated with
the 18th-century guardhouse
and later the 19th-century public
market, both of which occurred
above the 16th-century deposits.
Artifacts associated with the
guardhouse/public market
revealed interesting facets of
daily life, including evidence for

Figure 2. The plaza well as it appeared in 1879. The well is at the
center of the picture. Courtesy of the St. Augustine Historical Society.

gambling and the repair of uni-
forms during the 18th century.
Nearby was a trash pile that
contained thousands of small
broken bones, probably from
domestic animals such as pigs
and cattle. Apparently, the
occupants of the 19th-century
public market were not too
concerned with sanitation and
tossed the refuse from butcher
stalls in the public market onto a
nearby rubbish heap. Also
located was the building found-
ation to the unfinished 18th-
century Catholic church, which
was at the southwest corner of
the plaza.

An unexpected find was the
documentation of a late 17th-
century to early 18th-century
activity area under what is now
the Confederate Monument.
Recorded were two wells and a
large trash pit. The trash pit was
filled with thousands of animal
bones, representing a variety of
both domestic animals (such as
chicken, cattle, and pigs) and
various wild animals (such as
water fowl, deer, turtles, and
small mammals). This area of
the plaza may have served as a
narlket during' the !at- 1 600s tc
early 1700s.

One of the most striking
archaeological discoveries in the
plaza was the unearthing of the
19th-century plaza well. This
coquina stone structure was

used from 1823 to the early
1880s as the source of potable
water for the public market. A
historical photo dating to 1879
shows how the well appeared
(Figure 2). After the well was
abandoned, the shaft was filled
with beach sand and the upper 4
feet of the well was dismantled.
The well lay buried and for-
gotten for more than 100 years,
when it was discovered acciden-
tally by the City's Public Works
crew during the replacement of
the sidewalks--the beach sand
was the clue. This year, the
City, witn financial support from
the HP1 Association, Inc.,
reconstructed the well. Retired
architect Charles Hornbach used
the historical photograph and
archaeological data to prepare
his renderings for reconstruction
of the well.

Lessons from the Plaza

The Plaza de la Constitici6n
represents one of St. Augus-
tine's oldest landmarks. It has
been in existence for almost 400
years, when a plaza was official-
ly laid out under the orders of
Governor Canzo in 1598. This

the archaeological record, which
indicates that after 1600 there is
a dramatic decrease in the num-
ber of buried archaeological
features in the plaza. What was
unexpected was the quantity of
16th-century archaeological

features, especially wells and
post holes, that predated the
plaza. Although the data are
sketchy, it is hypothesized that
these 16th-century features may
correspond with the historically
documented encroachment of
the town toward the fort in the
1580s. Consequently, what
developed into a plaza in 1598
originally may have been a
residential area.

Through the City's Archae-
ology Program, St. Augustine's
cultural heritage is being
revealed. The excavations within
the plaza were limited in scope--
only 6% of the plaza was
investigated--but we have
explored an area of the City that
heretofore has not received any
substantive work. What has
been learned is that the plaza not
only represents a 400-year-old
landmark, but that it holds
answers to questions related to
the configuration of the 16th-
century community, the
residents who made up that
community, and their percep-
tions of what items were
important for that community to
survive. According to historian
Ai!-r "th .t a '.lo_.
was not officially laid out until
1598...suggest[s] that Spanish
laws governing town plans were
either unknown... or were
ignored by the St. Augustine

Prepared for the Plaza Rededication Ceremony. August 15, 1996
Carl D. IHalbirt, City Archaeologist, Planning and Building, City of St Augustine

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