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Slave's Route: Fortresses in Eastern Cuba

Slavery, a phenomenon linked to Spain's colonization of Cuba, is also present in many buildings throughout the Caribbean Island.

Houses, churches, sugar factories and even military forces were built using slave labor force, provided by thousands of people who were forcibly uprooted from their homes in Africa.

The eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the country's first capital from 1515 to 1607, was constantly attacked by corsairs and pirates attracted by the Island's wealth. That was why, military constructions were designed and built to protect the interests of the Spanish Crown.

That is the case of the Castle of San Pedro de la Roca (also known as Santiago de Cuba's Morro), a fortress that made up the defensive system in the eastern part of the country, although its military impact was minimum as its construction took decades.

The castle's main designer and architect was the famous Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli, who had previously worked on the fortification of San Cristóbal de La Habana.

The fortress, along with La Socapa, La Avanzada and La Estrella, made up the defensive system around the Bay of Santiago de Cuba, and is the largest and most complex example of Caribbean-style European Renaissance military engineering.

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

According to traditions, the idea to build the castle came from Santiago's governor, Pedro de la Roca y Borja, after whom the fortress was named. Construction works began in the late 16th century.

Santiago de Cuba's Morro, which has undergone restoration works on several occasions, stands out for its architectural, esthetic and historic values.

Its thick walls and towers show visitors the magnificence of a military art that was developed in Italy, Spain and Cuba between the 16th and the 19th centuries.

In order to keep traditions alive, the fighters for Cuba's independence have been honored since 2001 with a gun salute shot from the Castle of San Pedro de la Roca.

The ceremony is carried out by gunners dressed in Spanish military uniform, who shoot a piece of artillery called Prince Pío, cast on December 19, 1805, in the Spanish city of Seville, and first deployed at the Morro-Cabaña complex in Havana.

The gun salute also pays tribute to Saint James (The Greater) and Saint Barbara, who are the patron saints of the city of Santiago de Cuba and the gunners, respectively.

Visiting that monumental fortress brings to mind the memory of its builders, anonymous artisans who created a complex that has overcome the passing of time and still shows its splendor.

Although Santiago de Cuba's Morro never played a major military role, the castle currently houses the Museum of Piracy, where many artifacts and documents showed the impact of that activity against which the fortress was originally conceived.

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