The eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, founded in 1514 by Governor Diego Velázquez, is also known as the Capital of the Caribbean, due to its privileged geographical location and his centuries-old history.
After being Cuba's most important city until 1607, the predatory action of corsairs and pirates forced Spanish authorities in the late 16th century to build the fortress of San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, which is considered one of the most formidable defensive constructions built by the Spanish conquistadors in the then so-called New World.
Its main designer and architect was famous Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli, who had worked on the fortification system of San Cristóbal de La Habana.
The fortress of San Pedro de la Roca del Morro, La Socapa, La Avanzada and La Estrella make up the defensive system of the Bay of Santiago, which is considered the largest and most complete example of European renaissance military engineering in the Caribbean region.
However, at the same time, it was a useless project, because it was built on rocky outcrop and construction works lasted nearly 200 years. In 1997, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the fortress Humankind Heritage. The building currently houses the Museum of Piracy.
In downtown Santiago de Cuba is the former Arms Square, which is in the heart of the city and is known as Céspedes Park, in honor of the Father of the Cuban Homeland, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.
Surrounding the park are several buildings from Spanish colonial times. They include the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, built in the 16th century. One of the church's paintings is considered the oldest in Cuba, according to many experts.
Also in downtown Santiago is Cuba's oldest house, which belonged to Governor Diego Velázquez. The house has a stone façade and still shows some original elements, including the roof and Moorish latticework.
Among the city's main cultural institutions is the centenarian Barcardí Museum, which is the oldest in Cuba and holds a wealthy collection of weapons from the country's wars of independence, artifacts from Cuban aborigines and even Inca and Egyptian mummies.
On the outskirts of the city is Gran Piedra (Large Rock) – the largest rock on earth according to the Guinness Book of Records. The majestic and imposing rock weighs 63,000 tons and is 1,220 meters above sea level.
The area was named after one of the most important geological values in Santiago de Cuba province: a huge volcanic rock that is 51 meters long, 25 meters high and 30 meters wide.
According to legend, the rock is a meteorite that hit eastern Cuba millions of years ago, although the true story is that the rock resulted from the explosion of an underwater volcano.