For history buffs visiting Gulf Shores, there's one special place to go: Fort Morgan. This famous site, which has been active through four wars - the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II - has protected Mobile Bay since 1834, and stands proudly as a National Historic Landmark. While its purpose might be a little different today, the fort is still a must-see when you're staying in any of the beach vacation rentals along Alabama's Gulf Coast.

The site has a bunch of different attractions within it, and you might not be sure what to explore while you're there, or even what it is you're looking at. Here's a breakdown of Fort Morgan and the events that happened on the land right below your feet.

Fort Morgan: The first steps

When you visit Fort Morgan, you'll find these arched casemates that the troops used for storage.Before you even enter the protective fort, you'll catch a glimpse of some important elements of the landmark. Ever heard the term "glacis"? This refers to the cleared ground on which you'll first set foot that slopes upward toward the entrance of the fort. Back in the 19th century when this fort prevented invasions, the hill protected the walls from direct cannon fire. You'll even see authentic cannons right outside the entrance of the fort - except they're only for decorative, historic purposes today. After traversing the hill, the postern greets you. This is the connecting tunnel that takes you through the glacis and into the heart of Fort Morgan.

Get a closer look

Once you've crossed through the Sally Port, which is the intricately designed entrance to the fort, you've officially ventured inside the landmark. You'll see an inscribed date, "1833," etched into the bastion, but don't let that marking fool you. The fort was actually completed in 1834, but named after General Daniel Morgan, of the Revolutionary War, in the 1833. Have you taken note of those small, arched rooms to the left? This space was specially designed for soldiers as protected gun positions for the fort's cannon, but the actual purpose seemed to shift as each war carried on. Instead, troops used them as storage space for their food and equipment, and occasionally even lived in them when enemy bombardment was looming. Not quite as roomy and relaxing as your Fort Morgan condo.

Make way for cannons

It might be strange to think of in today's world, but this historic fort actually relied on cannons to fight against enemies and protect the land. Fort Morgan continued to grow and develop after its construction, and 10 years later in 1843, a hotshot furnace was added just beyond the fort and past the ditch moat. Behind the site and to the right, you'll find the remains of the tiny brick hut, where solid iron cannon balls were heated until they were white hot. Once they reached soaring temperatures, soldiers would fire them at wooden ships in Mobile Bay to set them aflame. You can walk along this area and stand where the Lighthouse Battery once stood.

Wave to Fort Morgan from Dauphin Island

After you've explored the historic monument from the inside out, you can hop on a ferry and wave to Fort Morgan as you glide across Pelican Bay. The landmark, as well as the picturesque Fort Morgan rentals, will be waiting for your return back across the bay so you can continue to soak up the sun along Alabama's southernmost coastline.