Just 8km south of the city is one of Santiago’s most dramatic and popular sights, El Castillo del Morro San Pedro de la Roca, a fortress poised on the high cliffs that flank the entrance to the Bahía de Santiago de Cuba. Designed by the Italian military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli (also responsible for the similar fortification in Havana) and named after Santiago’s then-governor, it was built between 1633 and 1639 to ward off pirates. However, despite an indomitable appearance – including a heavy drawbridge spanning a deep moat, thick stone walls angled sharply to one another and, inside, expansive parade grounds stippled with cannons trained out to sea – it turned out to be nothing of the sort. In 1662 the English pirate Christopher Myngs captured El Morro after discovering, to his surprise, that it had been left unguarded. Ramps and steps cut precise angles through the heart of the fortress, which is spread over three levels, and it’s only as you wander deeper into the labyrinth of rooms that you get a sense of how huge it is. Now home to the Museo de la Piratería, El Morro is also notable for its daily cannon firing ceremony, which takes place at dusk, but the real splendour here is the structure’s magnificent scale, the sheer cliff-edge drop and its superb views out to sea.
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