The Castillo de la Real Fuerza
We stepped off the bus, stopped for a drink at a stand and wandered toward the fort we had passed on our tour. No sooner the word than the trigger finger was on overtime
The Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force) is a fortress on the western side of the harbour, set back from the entrance, bordering the Plaza de Armas. Originally built to defend against attack by pirates, it suffered from a poor strategic position too far inside the bay. The fortress is considered to be the oldest stone fortress in the Americas, and was listed in 1982 as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of "Old Havana and its Fortifications".
Once over the moat, we paid 3 Cuc’s (about two pounds) and entered a room with a beautiful model of the fort.
History: A previous fortress, the Fuerza Vieja (Old Force), was badly damaged in 1555 during an attack on Havana by the French privateer Jacques de Sores and eventually was demolished in 1582. In 1558 Bartolomé Sánchez, an engineer appointed by King Philip II of Spain, began work on the new fortress, initially known as the Fuerza Nueva (New Force). The Fuerza Vieja was set back from the harbour, but the new fortress was planned to be closer to the harbour to give it a better strategic position. The ironworks were established in 1558, but the first stones were not laid until 1562. Construction was delayed due to complaints from local residents forced to relocate to make way for the building and from disagreements between Sánchez and the Governor of Havana. The fortress was not completed until 1577, with slaves and French prisoners providing most of the labour. Built of limestone quarried from the Havana shoreline, the fortification incorporated thick sloping walls, a moat and drawbridge. The governor, Francisco Carreño, ordered the addition an upper storey as barracks and a munitions store, but on completion, the fortress proved to be too small for practical use.
La Giradilla on the watchtower
The 1706 bell in the tower
Despite being positioned closer to the harbour than the Fuerza Vieja, it quickly became apparent that the new fortress was still too distant from the mouth of the harbour to serve effectively as a defensive bulwark, so was instead adopted by Juan de Tejeda as the residence of the Governor of Havana. Subsequent governors made changes to the building and in 1634, Juan Vitrián de Viamonte added a watchtower with a weathervane sculpted in the form of a woman, by Gerónimo Martín Pinzón, an artist from Havana, and based on the figure crowning La Giralda in Seville. Although the reason for the choice of this figure, called La Giraldilla, is not known, a common suggestion is to honour Inés de Bobadilla, Havana's only female governor, who assumed control from her husband Hernando de Soto when he undertook an expedition to Florida. She spent many years scanning the horizon for signs of his returning ship (unbeknown to her, he had died). The figure became the symbol of the city of Havana (it features on the Havana Club rum label), and is now held at the City Museum (inset) housed in the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales in the Plaza de Armas, while a copy is in place on the watchtower. The façade of the fortress was demolished in 1851 to allow O’Reilly Street to go all the way to the docks, and prevent El Templete, completed in 1828, from being overshadowed by the fortress.
Views from the second floor.
La Fuerza Fortress circa 1921-1939
Use: The fortress was home to the National Archive from 1899 and the National Library from 1938 up until 1957, when both were relocated to a purpose-built library in Plaza de la Revolución. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, it housed the offices the National Commission of Monuments and the Centre of Preservation, Restoration and Museology. Used briefly as the Museum of Arms, the conditions within the fortress were not conducive to the preservation of the displays. In 1977, on the 400th anniversary of completion, the building was inaugurated as a museum and used to display exhibitions of Cuban contemporary and international art. In 1990, it became the National Museum of Cuban Ceramics. In 2010, Castillo de la Real Fuerza reopened as a Cuba’s premier maritime museum. (There is also a small naval museum in Cienfuegos.)
The museum contains excellent exhibits of Cuba’s maritime past from pre-Columbian days through to the 18th Century with the Royal Shipyard of Havana, one of the largest in the world which built nearly 200 ships for the Spanish Crown. The museum features a huge four metre model of the Santisima Trinidad (own blog).
The second level of the museum has a room with many historic and contemporary models of ships with links to Cuba. The only English ship was the only one without a label which made us smile.
Bear’s favourite was
obviously a cannon............
Bear’s favourite was obviously a cannon............
ALL IN ALL A GEM OF A FORT