July 28, 2012

0291 CUBA - San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba (UNESCO WHS)

"When I came to Juana, I followed the coast of that isle toward the west, and found it so extensive that I thought it might be the mainland, the province of Cathay; and as I found no towns nor villages on the sea-coast, except a few small settlements, where it was impossible to speak to the people, because they fled at once, I continued the said route, thinking I could not fail to see some great cities or towns; and finding at the end of many leagues that nothing new appeared, and that the coast led northward, contrary to my wish, because the winter had already set in, I decided to make for the south, and as the wind also was against my proceeding, I determined not to wait there longer, and turned back to a certain harbor whence I sent two men to find out whether there was any king or large city. They explored for three days, and found countless small communities and people, without number, but with no kind of government, so they returned", wrote Columbus in 1493 in a letter to Luis de Santángel (the finance minister of Ferdinand II), in which he announced his discoveries in the previous year in the New World. He claimed Cuba (named Juana, after Juan, Prince of Asturias) for the Kingdom of Spain, and this situation will remain unchanged for 400 years, although many others have yearned the island.

In 1514, at three years after Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar founded the first Spanish settlement on the island at Baracoa, the same conquistador established Santiago de Cuba, which will become the second largest city of Cuba, position that they occupy still today. As said Germán Arciniegas in Biografía del Caribe, "for a century and a half, unlucky Spain had to withstand the attack of all the European powers", all its enemy being brothers and attacking it with cheerful camaraderie. In the second half of the 17th century, "the gang breaks up, and the Caribbean becomes a universal arena of fighting cocks", and "Spain assists to the brawls with the natural joy of a spectator that didn't pay ticket, but risking, without doubt, as the old comrades to remember of him unexpectedly, to put in his back the whole spending of the show."

Aware of this, but also of the fact that the small fortification built between 1590 and 1610 was no longer able to defend the city, Pedro de la Roca de Borja, governor of Santiago de Cuba, asked to Giovanni Battista Antonelli (a member of a Milanese family of military engineers) to build a strong defensive system. Antonelli designed in 1637 the fortress which will be called Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, but its design will be adapted to the terrain. The citadel's construction took 42 years, starting in 1638 and being completed in 1700, in a series of terraces, with four main levels and three large bulwarks for artillery.

The fact that the governor fears were justified was proved in 1662 (therefore the fortress was still in construction), when the English freebooters under the guidance of Christopher Myngs took control of Santiago. Over time the fortress has suffered several attacks, and also was damaged by a series of earthquakes, and during the 20th century it fell into decay, but it was restored during the 1960s. The fortress was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997, under the name San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba, because "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." 

The stamp, depicting Jose Marti (1853-1895), a Cuban national hero and an important figure in Latin American literature, was issued on 1995 with the occasion of the Centennial of the War of Independence (Centenario de la guerra de independencia).

This is a post for Postcard Friendship Friday #126, hosted on Beth's blog The Best Hearts are Crunchy. Click on the button below to visit all the other participants.

The Letter of Columbus to Luis De Sant Angel – Historic Documents
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca – Wikipedia
San Pedro de la Roca Castle, Santiago de Cuba – UNESCO official site
Biografia Caraibelor, by Germán Arciniegas – Editura Minerva, Bucureşti, 1978

sender: Nestor Moreno Domenech / Mauroh (direct swap)
sent from Havana (Cuba), on 26.06.2012
photo: Juank


  1. I am starting to collect castle postcards. :)

    I think castles have a lot of story in their walls, waiting to be told.

  2. I collect also castles, palaces and fortresses. :) I have 34.