This massive series of fortifications on a rocky promontory was built to protect the important port of Santiago de Cuba. This intricate complex of forts, magazines, bastions and batteries is the most complete, best-preserved example of Spanish-American military architecture, based on Italian and Renaissance design principles.
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 entrance to Santiago de Cuba Bay since 1638. A classic bastioned fortification in which geometrical form, symmetry and proportionality between sides and angles predominate, the Castle is an outstanding representative of the Spanish-American school of military architecture.
This exceptional fortress and its associated defensive works were constructed in response to the aggressive commercial and political rivalries that menaced the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries; today, they constitute 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, its favorable currents and its 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 promontory’s steep cliffs in a progression of terraces, one above another, linked by a series of stairways:
- At the lowest level, just above 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 are the El Aljibe, De Adentro and Napoles platforms. This part of the castle took its present form 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 smaller defensive works down the north side of the promontory, consisting of La Estrella Fort and two smaller forts built in the 1660s. Added later were the Semaphore Tower, the Chapel of Santo Cristo and the Lighthouse, all built in 1840, and two batteries, Scopa Alta and Vigia, 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 1960's. This intricate complex of forts, magazines, bastions and batteries, all based on Italian and Renaissance design principles, is today the most complete and best-preserved example of this Spanish-American school of military architecture.