San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba (World Heritage)

According to agooddir, the monumental castle in Cuba’s second largest city has guarded the port entrance of Santiago since the 17th century and is the best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture in the country.

San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba: facts

Official title: San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba
Cultural monument: also known as “El Morro de Santiago”, with Fort 1 and 2, the fortresses Avanzada and La Estrella and the La Socapa battery
Continent: America
Country: Cuba
Location: Santiago de Cuba, southeast of Havana
Appointment: 1997
Meaning: the most complex and best preserved evidence of Hispanic-American fortress architecture with designs based on the principles of the Italian Renaissance

San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba: history

1588 Loss of dominance of the Spanish fleet on the world’s oceans
1590-1610 on the orders of Philip II. Construction of a fortress at the entrance to the Bay of Santiago de Cuba
1638-42 According to the design of the military architect Juan Bautista Antonelli under Governor Pedro de la Roca y Boria, construction of a fortress with four bastions with a connection to the fort
1655 Landing of an English fleet of 18 ships, capture of Santiago de Cuba
1663-69 Fortification extension
1675, 1678, 1679 and 1692 partial destruction by earthquakes
1678 and 1689 unsuccessful attack by French units
1741 reconstruction
1747 repulsed attack by the English fleet
1757 and 1766 renewed destruction by earthquakes
1898 Spanish-American War, capture of the fortress on July 17th and December 10th. Signing of the Treaty of Paris, as a result
1899 Takeover of Cuba by the USA
1978 Restoration of the fortress
1979 Appointment as a national monument

Armed to the teeth

Seen from the sea, the bay of Santiago de Cuba is picturesquely situated between the dense greenery of the Sierra Maestra and the south-east coast, which looks as if it leans against the water. Idyllic were it not for the fortress that testifies to the worst fears of the Santiagueros. On a high limestone cliff on the east side of the bottle neck entrance to the bay they have built the mighty fort to protect the bay, town and port since the late 16th century. At that time, English corsairs and other enemies of Spain were constantly appearing in front of the nearby city of Santiago de Cuba, hunting for gold galleons from Mexico and Peru in the Caribbean. They were only interested in the city because of its El Cobre copper mine, which was one of the largest in the world and made Santiago de Cuba the trading center and largest slave market in Cuba. In addition, because of its sheltered location and favorable currents, the bay was not only worth gold as a suitable anchorage for privateers.

Because the monarch Philip II in distant Spain and the residents of the city did not want to take any further risk, they commissioned the Italian Juan Bautista Antonelli to build a fortification. He was a proven expert in the field of fortress construction and had delivered his masterpiece with the Castillo El Morro in Havana. Although the stone colossus was built into the 19th century, expanded several times and the damage from earthquakes and enemy cannons was plastered over and over again, it looks like it was made from one piece.

With triple trenches, several drawbridges, two double symmetrical bulwarks and six different levels for the line of fire, a pirate may almost lose the desire to dare to attack. The corner edges of the fortress bulwark protrude like battering rams towards the enemy. On the lowest level – “La Lengua del Agua” – which is also the oldest, the soldiers put the attacker under their gunfire. There was a powder magazine, command room, and guards within easy reach. The soldiers’ quarters were also on the next level, “Sanítisimo Sacramente”. In view of the extensive built-up areas within the facility, in addition to good shooting skills, the passion for the marathon must have been the decisive factor for the soldiers to take up their military service.

Santiagueros now claim that El Morro was built for beauty rather than defense. But many gritted their teeth against its mighty walls, including the notorious pirate Henry Morgan. Morgan is said to have given up the assault on the fortress, saying that it was so safe that only a man and a dog were needed to defend it. Still, others, like François Leclerc’s men, managed to pass the fort and rob the city. The hardest blow was dealt El Morro English red coats, who bypassed the fortress and then attacked Santiago, in order to subsequently almost completely destroy the proud defensive structure.

Behind thick walls, in a damp, musty climate and in dim light, a pirate museum evokes the atmosphere of Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Old maps, pictures of the ships, of course all kinds of weapons and ammunition boxes are suitable props, and ammunition and gunpowder are still stored in the armory. In order to be able to transport the heavy iron balls to the loopholes as quickly as possible, an original device was constructed: a wooden ramp over which the heavy iron balls were carried up to the cannons in the loopholes. The documentation of the pirate history ends with modern piracy: the US invasion of the Bay of Pigs, which is still unforgotten in Cuba today.

San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba