San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba
San Pedro De La Roca Castle, Santiago De Cuba
Cultural Cuba Latin America And The Caribbean Provincia De Santiago De Cuba

The Castle of San Pedro de la Roca and its associated defensive works are of exceptional value because 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.

Its exceptional location and its adaptation to the topography puts the castle into a widely recognized group of three such fortresses designed by the famous father and son military architects, Bautista and Juan Bautista Antonelli, the others being the Castle of the Three Kings in Havana (Cuba) and San Sebastian Castle in San Juan (Puerto Rico). The authenticity of the castle is high because it underwent little change from the late 19th century, when it went out of use, until the 1960s, when restoration work began.

With the growth of shipping in the Caribbean and the policy of Philip II of fortifying the Spanish colonies there after losing naval supremacy in 1588, a ravelin and battery were installed between 1590 and 1610 on the south-western beach of the promontory. This fortification was built to protect the entrance to the town of Santiago de Cuba.

As the conflict between Spain and England grew in the 17th century, the governor of the town, Pedro de la Roca y Borja, began the construction of a stone fortress, linked with the existing ravelin , following the visit of Juan Bautista Antonelli in 1638.

English expansion in the Caribbean had repercussions for Santiago de Cuba, which had been involved in the conflict. An English attack in 1662 led the destruction to the castle. It was rebuilt and substantially enlarged in 1663-69.

The castle was weakened by earthquakes in 1675, 1678 and 1679, but it was reconstructed and consolidated in 1693-95. After a short period of relative tranquillity, England adopted an aggressive stance again in 1738-40 and so further enlargement was carried out. The castle suffered from earthquake damage in 1757 and 1766, when the opportunity was taken to incorporate more recent developments in military architecture.

The castle of San Pedro de la Roca, with its associated batteries of La Estrella and Santa Catalina by the canal leading to the port of Santiago de Cuba and the battery of Aguadores on the southern coast, protect the bay of Santiago. The castle is representative of the Spanish-American school of military architecture;it is a classic bastioned fortification, Italian in origin and of Renaissance design. It is built on a promontory with steep cliffs rising to more than 20m. The terrain is such that the various elements could be built in a series of terraces, one above another, and linked by a series of stairways.

The oldest part of the castle is La Lengua del Agua Ravelin, where the fortification of this strategically important promontory began in 1590. It is at the lowest level, just above high-water mark. In addition to the fortified gun platform, it consists of a powder magazine, a command building and a guard post.

Next comes the Santísimo Sacramento Platform, the elements of which include gun emplacements, a powder magazine and quarters for its garrison. The whole of this part of the castle took its present form during the mid-18th-century reconstruction, and it was at this time that 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 the 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. Later additions were the Semaphore Tower, the Chapel of Santo Cristo and the Lighthouse, all built in 1840, and two batteries, Scopa Alta and Vigia, built from prefabricated concrete in 1898 at the time of the Spanish-American War.