San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba (Cuba)

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San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba (Cuba)

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San Pedro de la Roca Castle is a multi-level stone fortress built to protect the vital port of Santiago de Cuba. UNESCO cites this intricate complex of forts, magazines, bastions and batteries as the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture.

San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba

San Pedro de la Roca Castle, a multi-level stone fortress built into a rocky promontory (El Morro) at the southeastern end of the island of Cuba, has guarded the Santiago de Cuba Bay entrance since 1638. It is located approximately 10 km (6 mi) southwest of the Santiago de Cuba city center.

Cited as the best preserved and most complete example of Spanish-American military architecture, the fortress was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

The fortress was designed in the early 1600s by Battista Antonelli, a member of a Milanese family of military engineers. It was built on behalf of the city governor as a defense against raiding pirates.

San Pedro de la Roca Castle was constructed on a series of terraces, with four primary levels and three large bulwarks to house the artillery. Supplies would be delivered by sea and then stored in the large warehouse, cut directly into the rock or transported up to the top level, which housed the citadel.

Construction of the citadel took 62 years, starting in 1638 and finally being completed in 1700, though work on the fortification was spasmodic. Antonelli was recalled to Cuba in 1598, shortly after the massive project was started. Some structures from the earlier fortification were later incorporated into the central system.

Today, this World Heritage site constitutes the largest and most comprehensive example of the principles of Renaissance military engineering adapted to the requirements of European colonial powers in the Caribbean.

San Pedro de la Roca Castle and its associated batteries of La Estrella, Santa Catalina and Aguadores protect the entrance to the bay and port of San Diego de Cuba, which was of great importance because of its geographical situation, favorable currents and protected anchorages.

As conflicts between Spain and England grew in the 17th century, the town's governor ordered the construction of a stone fortress on a strategic point where an earlier ravelin existed, following the designs of the renowned Italian military engineer Juan Bautista (Giovanni Battista) Antonelli.

The fortress was built into the peninsula's cliffs in a progression of terraces, one above another, linked by a series of stairways:

  • At the lowest level, just above the high-water mark, is a fortified gun platform, powder magazine, command building and guard post.

  • Next is the Santísimo Sacramento Platform, which includes gun emplacements, a powder magazine and quarters for its garrison.

  • Above it is the El Aljibe, De Adentro and Napoles platforms. This castle part was present during a mid-18th-century reconstruction when the North and South Bastions were added.

  • The Santísima Trinidad Platform is the highest level of the main castle and was built in the 1660s.

To the north lies La Avanzada Fort, which completes the chain of more minor defensive works down the peninsula's north side, consisting of La Estrella Fort and two smaller forts built in the 1660s.

The Semaphore Tower, the Chapel of Santo Cristo and the Lighthouse were added in 1840, and two batteries, Scopa Alta and Vigia, were built in 1898.

The fortress, which has been repaired, reconstructed and consolidated numerous times due to earthquakes and attacks, declined during the early 20th century due to lack of maintenance but was restored in the 1960s.