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Havana's Walls: A Fragment of History in Cuba's Capital

The Cuban capital, formerly known as the village of San Cristóbal de La Habana, owes its situation to the strategic location that Cuba's condition as the key to the gulf represented for Spain, in addition to its port, characterized by its narrow entrance and deep waters, a safe haven for ships with a deep draft.

This strategic location turned the village into a necessary stopover for ships carrying the riches of the new world to the old continent.

The greed of corsairs and pirates led the Spanish Crown to organize the so-called fleets to create a better defense from their attacks. This also forced the filibusters to change their strategies and bet on capturing the city.

As a response to threats against the village, the Spanish government decreed the fortification of the city with true works of military engineering, including the fortresses of La Punta, El Morro and La Cabaña, as well as the towers of La Chorrera and San Lázaro.

However, due to the city's vulnerability from land, the Spanish Crown decided in the late 16th century to build walls around San Cristóbal de La Habana.

According to historians, the initial variant included the construction of stone walls with economic support from Madrid, but that idea was soon forgotten due to bureaucratic procedures and Spain claiming lack of funds to carry out such works.

Castle of Los Tres Reyes del Morro
View of the Wall. Fragment
La Cabaña Fortress

A second proposal consisted of building wooden walls, but the construction was soon abandoned, because they were too weak to protect the city.

A third proposal, consisting of building a moat around the city, was aimed at giving the village a setting that resembled that of medieval castles. However, this project was never executed.

Finally, under the mandate of Governor Francisco Rodríguez de Ledesma, a fourth project and the necessary budget were approved to build the walls around the city, using stones as the main material.

Thus, the construction of the much-expected walls began in 1674. The works were initially planned for a three-year period; however, they lasted over six decades, since they were completed in 1740.

At that time, the walls became a characteristic element of the village's setting. Nine gates gave access to the city, being those of La Punta, Reina Street and the so-called La Muralla the most famous entrances.

However, the walls played their role for only 123 years, since demolition began in 1863, as the city began to expand beyond their limits. The urbanization of the area outside the walls developed so fast that it grew larger than the area inside the fortification.

The new areas not only held the city's suburbs, but also major avenues, commercial districts and such works as the Aldama Palace, the Prado Promenade and the Tacón Theater, among others.

For present-day dwellers, only disperse remnants of the walls can be seen in the old part of the Cuban capital. They, along with the "9 o'clock cannonshot" - a signal to close the gates of the walls in colonial times -, remind us of the monumental fortification built around the city to repel the attacks of corsairs and pirates.

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