"Canonazo De Las 9" Ceremony
Havana's 9 o'clock gun is fired every night from a cannon at the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña (Fort of St Charles) beside the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (an older fortification known locally as "El Morro") at the entrance to the port.
The fort, known locally as 'La Cabaña' was completed in 1774. It rises above a 200 ft (60m) hilltop beside El Morro. It was built by the Spanish after they recaptured Cuba from the British in 1762. Recognising the vulnerability of the 16th century El Morro, the defences were strengthened with the new fortress. At the time, La Cabaña was the second-largest colonial military installation in the New World and today it is still the third largest in the Americas. Today, it forms part of a complex of historical monuments and museums open to the public. The fortress complex, along with Old Havana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The firing of the cannon is quite a spectacle. With appropriate pomp and ceremony, artillery cadets dressed in 18th century colonial uniforms detonate the cannon with naked flames and much rolling of drums. Tourists are encouraged to attend and despite the precise timing of the cannon fire, the detonation always causes spectators to jump... And then check their watches!
A particular acoustic technique ensures that the cannon can be heard across the city. The sound takes around 4 seconds to travel to Parque Central, and just under 10 seconds to reach the Hotel Nacional.
The origins of the spectacle
This ceremony dates from the eighteenth century, when the Spanish rulers of Cuba fired the cannon to inform the Habaneros to take shelter in their homes while the navy defended them against pirate attack.
At that time, Havana was divided in two, within and out with the city walls. To begin with, there were only two gates into the internal part of the city, much like the medieval cities of Europe and North Africa. Eventually, however, nine gates were built to accommodate the comings and goings of people and produce.
A cannon fired at 4:30am announced the opening of these gates, and a further one at 8pm announce their closure. No-one wanted to be stuck outside the protection of the thick defensive walls of the city after the curfew. Over time, the evening gunfire was moved to 9pm. As the urbanisation of Havana increased, the walls could no longer contain the population and in the second half of the 19th century a demolition programme demolish this barrier. The original purpose of the 9 o'clock gun was abandoned, although the practice continued.
For only one period, during World War II, the cannon was silenced as the Cuban Army preserved its gunpowder supplies. The 9 o'clock gun resumed its tradition on 1 December 1945.
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