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Cuba: The Attraction of Its Fortresses

Cuba, whose Spanish colonial past is present in all aspects of its daily life, has in its many fortresses a historic heritage that attracts both Cuban and foreign tourists.

The privileged geographic location of the island nation, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and amid major maritime routes, forced Spanish authorities to build a strong network of fortifications, many of which have survived the passage of time and can be visited today, although they have lost their military value.

Cuba's military development was boosted by the Spanish court's decision to turn the port of Havana into a hub for treasure-laden ships departing from the New World to the metropolis.

Therefore, the Spanish monarchs decided to build a system of fortifications to protect the wealth of the Crown and persuade corsairs and pirates from attacking the island, especially its capital.

One of the most outstanding fortresses from that period is the Castle of the Three Kings of Morro, which was designed by Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli.

It is a Renaissance fortress in the shape of an irregular polygon with three powerful bastions overlooking the bay, the entry to the port and the city. The Morro castle was later complemented by the Fortress of La Cabaña.

Interior view of El Morro Castle.
La Cabaña Fortress
View of the Wall. Fragment

The famous city Walls were built in 1740, thus the custom of shooting a cannon before closing the nine gates to Havana, a tradition that has remained until today.

Day after day, at nine pm, the guards at the fortress fired the cannons to warn Havana dwellers that it was time to seek shelter within the walls and avoid traveling in the thick woods surrounding the city.

Defensive works such as the San Lázaro Tower and La Punta Fortress complemented Havana's protective system, in addition to minor structures built throughout the country, mainly along the coastline, which was vulnerable to attacks by corsairs and pirates.

The Castle of San Pedro de la Roca – also known as Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle – was built in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the first capital of the country from 1515 to 1607. The fortress had little defensive impact, as its construction lasted several decades.

Santiago's Morro, La Socapa, La Avanzada and La Estrella are the largest and most complete example of European Renaissance military engineering in the Caribbean.

Within their thick walls and towers, visitors can see, in all its splendor, the imprint of military engineering developed in Italy, Spain and Cuba from the 16th to the 19th century.

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