Nothing prepared me for the truth that our Australian ancestors the English, were the baddies on the high seas in the 1600s. In the three forts we visited in Cuba (two in Havana and one in Santiago de Cuba) we were told and then reminded. Our English speaking guide in Castillo de la Real Fuerza was very particular to cast the English as the terrors, my guess for effect. At that time the Spanish governed Cuba. I scoffed a little, as the English would, on hearing this at first but by the end of our holiday I had adapted to our charge. I have to say, it did feel really weird being on the ‘other side’ in a foreign country.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza built in the 1500s is in the shape of a star and to get an idea of it’s shape look at the photograph of the fort model I have added to this post. You can get a feeling of it’s shape from the watchtower that looks out above the fort & bay. The watchtower was built and used to scan the horizon for pirates. Unfortunately the fort was too far in side the bay to have any effect. The pirates were upon Havana too quickly. The fort is now a maritime museum that houses many model ships, weapons, canons, coins and artifacts. Our guide told us that much of the Spanish fleet in the 1600-1700s was built in Cuba because the mahogany wood was growing in Cuba. My only regret was not asking why there were all those turtle shells in the fort’s moat.
A trip to Havana is not complete until you visit the Forteleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (La Cabaña for short) across the harbour from Castillo de la Real Fuerza in Havana. It has more armour, guns, canons on display. One of the canons is even fired at 9pm over Havana for the tourists. This fort was built in the 1700s by the then king of Spain following Havana’s capture by the English. In more recent times Baptisa used it as a military prison and during the Cuban Revolution by Che Guevara.
When we visited La Cabaña our view over Havana that evening was beautiful especially with the sun trying to set around the storm clouds. La Cabana has an extensive museum, I think there might even have been different sections we didn’t get to walk through. If you ever go, set aside a good amount of time if you like museums and take ear plugs. The canon did blast across the harbour on time & whilst the kids loved it, Nigel & I were deaf for quite some time.
My favourate fort was the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (del Morro for short) which is just 10km outside Santiago de Cuba. This fort was built in the 1600s also as a major defense to the Pirates. It was constructed on a series of terraces and I have a picture of the fort model below which gives you an idea of his massive size. Again we could have spent several hours looking at the many displays, so much history to read. Unfortunately a lot of the text was in Spanish but you can get the gist none the less. The English were baddies, again on the seas. We could have spent hours discovering all of the rooms big and small and at one stage I was worried the kids were lost.
One impressive canon storage room we found stored and hauled up a step wooden incline canons to the fort wall during an attack. The French, English and Pirates attacked at various times. Even during the building of the fort the English took control of Santiago de Cuba for two weeks.
Over all I think the kids enjoyed listening to the guides stories, learning about the weapons used and looking discovering the forts the most in Cuba. That and the mangoes, they tell me.