The Fortress of San Pedro de la Roca – also known as Morro Fortress – is an enormous piece of colonial military architecture. Poised atop the cliffs at the entrance to the bay of Santiago de Cuba, it is about 14 kilometers south of the city. Built as a defense against the harassment of pillaging pirates between 1638 and 1700, it was a project of the famous Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli (who also designed La Punta and El Morro forts in Havana) during the government of Don Pedro de la Roca y Borjas, from whom its name derives.
Considered the largest and most complex example of early military engineering from the Caribbean Renaissance, on December 4, 1997 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
The oldest part of the fortress is the “La Lengua del Agua” Ravelin, found on the lowest level just above the tidemark. In contrast is the Santísimo Sacramento Platform – the highest level of the main fortress - with casemates for weapons, a powder magazine and chambers for its garrison.
Since 1978, the fortress is also home to the Museo de la Piratería (Piracy Museum), which charts 16th century pirate attacks from Englishman Henry Morgan to Frenchman Jacques de Sores. Here, all over the place, are found cannons and spectacular views from the ramparts. Exhibitions include muskets, old blunderbusses, cutlasses, gunstocks and more.
It is easy to imagine travelling back in time as you appreciate the chapel that has a wooden figure of Christ dating from the seventeenth century, or a powder magazine with its inclined level, its defensive platforms at different levels, the cells and torture rooms. A shift in time also happens when you see the romantic Balcón de la Reina (Queen’s Balcony) which gives you one of the most magnificent views of the fortress.
When you visit this site, without doubt you will want to enjoy the Cannonball Ceremony that takes place each evening. Soldiers with uniforms from the time shoot off the cannon using a torch, thus honoring the old tradition that used to announce the closing of the port.
The escarpment is crowned by the Morro Lighthouse. Built in 1920, it still uses its original Fresnel lens.
Text: Naryara García Costa
Address: Carretera del Morro Km. 7½.
Hours: Open 24 hours.
Museo de la Piratería
Monday to Sunday: 8:30am to 7:00pm.
Entrance: Foreigners - CUC 5 (admission), USD 2 (cameras and videos). Cubans CUP 3.