Castillo De San Pedro De La Roca Del Morro

Some 16 kilometres south of central Santiago sits the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, often called el Morro but not to be confused with the similarly-nicknamed fort in Havana. The structure is now home to a fine museum, but it's even more widely recognized for its ambitious design, its striking placement bordering sheer cliffs, and the mesmerizing views it offers of the bay and out further to sea.

Perched high on the cliffs alongside the narrow entrance to Santiago de Cuba harbour sits the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca — or el Morro, if that’s easier for you. This historic fort is striking not only for its architecture and design but also for its dramatic location at the mouth of the bay and the views of the surrounding scenery it offers. The fort has played a number of roles throughout history before arriving at its role of museum, tourist destination, and UNESCO World Heritage Site today. Let’s take a quick look at its story:

A Brief History of the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca

Santiago was founded in 1515 and was already a booming town by the mid-16th century. This of course made it an enticing prize for pirates and other unsavory characters, and it didn’t take long for the first attack to come. The city was sacked by French forces in 1553, and so the Spanish decided to construct a major fortification to prevent this from happening again.

The Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca was designed by renowned Italian engineer Giovanni Bautista Antonelli in 1587, but construction on the fort didn’t begin until 1633 — and even then, it took more than half a century to complete. English forces also managed to briefly take control of the fort during construction after finding it without any defenses, if you can believe that! Once they were gone, the Spanish fixed the damage that was done and placed a garrison of 300 men to protect the fort — it seems they had learned their lesson.

Once the building was fully complete, things calmed down around Santiago de Cuba. By the end of the 18th century the fort was mostly out of commission, save for a brief period of reuse in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.

El Morro Today

Though the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca fell into disuse and began to deteriorate through the first half of the 20th century, it was ambitiously restored to its former glory during the 1960s. Since 1997 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized as one of the world’s finest examples of Spanish-American military architecture.

As you cross the moat and drawbridge and descend over 200 steps into the heart of El Morro, it won’t be hard for you to imagine how the fort’s defenders must have felt some centuries ago. If you want some more concrete details, check out the Museo de Piratería (Pirate Museum) to learn more about the piracy-related events that took place here and across Cuba. Lastly, the fort provides striking views of the Santiago harbor and out to sea that are truly without comparison anywhere else in the area.

To arrive at the fort from central Santiago, you can take a taxi or instead opt for a public bus and a short hike. If you’re in doubt, simply ask for advice at your place of lodging!


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