Jagua Castle (Castillo de Jagua, also known as the fortress "Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua") is situated in a prime defensive location at the entrance to Cienfuegos Bay. It is considered the 3rd most important defensive fort after those in Havana and Santiago. The castle was founded in 1745 on the orders of King Philip V of Spain, and is the only military fort on the island of Cuba built in the late 18th century Spanish Renaissance style. It was declared a National Monument in 1978. The museum at the fortress opened 20 years later in 1998. Extensive restoration work was undertaken in 2010.
On a trip to the Castle, cross the drawbridge learn about the important defence of the area from pirates, visit the fortifications and admire the views out across the Caribbean. Exhibitions show the history of pirates and privateers and the impact of colonisation on the Cienfuegos area. There are also displays on the castle's construction and the artillery used there, which was imported from Spain.
In the former chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Jagua, visitors can see the pews and religious items such as prayer books, crucifixes and candlesticks. The mural decoration on its walls is the oldest found in Cienfuegos. It is also possible to visit the former torture chambers of the prison.
The imperative to defend and protect the Bay and city of Cienfuegos became clear from the 16th century, when colonialists, traders and Creole landowners became keen to protect their, interests from smugglers, pirates and privateers. Because of bay was protected from the high seas, these seafarers would take shelter on the Jagua peninsula. Sir Francis Drake even sailed into the Bay.
Once the fortress was built, it bore witness too many naval battles against pirate ships and served as a prison for those captured in the conflict. The architecture reflects many features of European fortifications and castles of the era, such as its vaulted ceilings and a surrounding moat, providing access only via a drawbridge. The highest point of the building is the cylindrical tower with its domed roof. Under the castle is a cistern with a maximum capacity of 100m3 (3,500 ft3), designed to capture every precious drop of rain water and service the interior of the fortress. An 18th century belfry remains in relatively good condition.
In the late 19th century, on the eve of U.S. intervention during the Spanish-Cuban American War, three batteries of guns and howitzers were built, profiting from the hilltop topography of the site.
Accessible only by sea
Part of the adventure of visiting this 18th century fortress is getting there. Ferries ply stunning Cienfuegos Bay and you may get to glimpse pelicans on route. The ferry leaves from Cienfuegos docks or Rancho Luna Beach. From where visitors alight, there is a dust track leading straight up to the drawbridge.
Ferries leave Cienfuegos at 8am and 1pm and return at 10am and 3pm. Another ferry leaves frequently to a landing just below the Hotel Pasacaballo in Rancho Luna. Tickets costs $0.5 CUC and the journey takes around 15 minutes.
In all, a visit of the Castle and museum takes around 2.5 hours, making the trip to Jagua Castle a great excursion for a half day, followed perhaps by lunch or other activities back on the mainland.
There is a restaurant serving snacks and drinks inside the fortress. The signature dish is paella and occasionally evening shows are put on for visitors.
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