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San Pedro de la Roca: Humankind's Heritage

The Eastern city of Santiago of Cuba, the first capital of the country from 1515 to 1607, had to defend itself from the attacks of corsairs and pirates attracted by the wealth of the island. That situation led to the design and construction of defensive facilities to protect the interests of the Spanish Crown.

Declared Humankind's Heritage in 1997, the Castle of San Pedro de la Roca - also known as Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle - was part of that defensive system in eastern Cuba, although its military impact was minimal due to a delay of several decades in its construction.

Its main designer and architect was the famous Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli, who had been in charge of fortification works in the village of San Cristóbal de La Habana.

Along with La Socapa, La Avanzada and La Estrella, the fortress is part of the defensive system of the Bay of Santiago, and is considered the greatest and most complete example of military engineering of European Renaissance applied to the conditions of the Caribbean.

According to history, the idea to build the fortress came from the then governor of that Eastern territory, Pedro de la Roca y Borja, after whom the castle was named. Construction works began in the late 16th century.

Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle, which has undergone reconstruction works on several occasions, is an architectural crown jewel of great esthetic and historic value that attracts thousands of tourists who visit the city every year.

San Pedro de la Roca. Outside view
San Pedro de la Roca. Museum of Piracy
San Pedro de la Roca. Cannon battery

On its heavy walls and turrets, visitors can appreciate in all its magnitude the imprint of military architecture developed in Italy, Spain and Cuba from the 16th to the 19th century.

Nowadays, the breathtaking fortress incorporates to the traditions of eastern Cuba a salute of artillery to the combatants who fought for the Island's independence, a ceremony that was first held in 2001.

For the ceremony, a group of artillerymen, dressed in uniforms like those worn by soldiers in Spanish-colonial times, uses a piece of artillery called Prince Pío, cast on December 19, 1805, in the Spanish city of Seville, and initially deployed at the Morro-Cabaña historic complex in Havana.

The firing of the cannon also pays tribute to James (Santiago) the Apostle and Saint Barbara, the patron saints of the city of Santiago de Cuba and the artillerymen, respectively.

Prince Pío, which was deployed on the platform of Naples at the fortress, takes its new responsibility and marks the moment in which the Cuban national flag is lowered in the castle.

The new attraction of San Pedro de la Roca for visitors, both nationals and foreigners, has its antecedent in the shots fired centuries ago from the Punta Blanca battery to welcome the ships arriving at the port.

Despite its minimum military value, due to the delay in its construction, Santiago de Cuba's Morro Castle treasures nowadays the main exponents of the Museum of Piracy, an exhibit of an activity that the fortress was intended to fight.

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