Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force)
Around 1540 there was a fortress called Fuerza Vieja (Old Forces) in the place later occupied by the Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Forces).The old fortress was erected because of the pirates and corsair’s raids that the town began to undergo in the 16th century. The first attack goes back to 1537, when the town was pillaged and burned out. There were many attackers, including Jacques de Sores (1555) and Francis Drake among others, who between the 16th and 17th centuries kept the Spanish authorities in suspense. The so called Fuerza Vieja was located three hundred paces to the northeast of the Real Fuerza, at the entrance of the Tacón Street, near the spot where the Iglesia del Santo Ángel Custodio would be erected in the 17th century. The Fuerza Vieja was destroyed in 1582 due to its decaying state (it stood up to three pirate raids) and scarce strategic value.
The authorities of the island took steps in order to have a new fortress. In 1558 arrived in Havana the engineer Bartolomé Sánchez, appointed by the king Felipe II. The construction of the fort was delayed because of disagreements among the governor, the neighbors whose lots were expropriated for the works and the engineer himself. The arrival of a new master builder on the same year had a sorry ending. It wasn’t until 1577 that the Real Fuerza was finished, thanks to the work of black slaves and Mexican money. The governor Francisco Carreño ordered an upper storey (having portholes) built to keep the gunpowder and weapons in and also to serve as barracks for the garrison and its captain. Actually, once finished, the fortress held just a few men and scarce ammunition.
This work, like the ones to follow, was made out of limestone coral rock, dug out from the shore. In the construction of the Real Fuerza they followed after the guidelines of the most modern Renaissance ideas. The fortress has underground vaulted storerooms, moats, drawbridge, sloping walls, bastions, etc. It was the safest building of its time. That’s why it was taken as residence by the Spanish governors. The first to inhabit it was Juan de Tejeda. Afterwards, every governor added some changes. For example Francisco Cajigal added a room overhanging the seawards side with a wide balcony. Juan Vitrián de Viamonte, in the first half of the 17th century, had a watchtower crowned with a bronze figurine in the shape of a woman built. This figurine was a copy of the Giralda of the Seville Cathedral and worked as a weather vane.
It is said that the Giraldilla is a symbol of victory, though over time it has become a symbol of the city. It holds a palm tree in its right arm (only the trunk remains) and in its left arm a staff with the calatrava cross, symbol of the military and knightly order of which Vitrián was a member. The figurine shows a medallion on its chest engraved as follows: ‘Jerónimo Martín Pinzón, artificer, caster and sculptor’. Pinzón was an artist from Havana deceased in 1649. Around 1706 a bell was placed on the tower.
The façade of the fortress was demolished in 1851 to isolate the Templete. In this way O’Reilly Street stretched all the way to the docks.
Among other functions it was the venue of the National Archive from 1899 and the National library between 1938 and 1957; it also had the offices the National Commission of Monuments and Centre of Preservation, Restoration and Museology after 1959. It was the Museum of Arms, but it had to be replaced due the unfavourable conditions to preserve its patrimonial exhibition.
In 1977 was declared museum, coinciding with its 400th anniversary. It has offered transitory exhibitions of Cuban contemporary art and collective international expositions of a high level. A new museum project was inaugurated in 1990, and it defined the place as the location of the contemporary artistic ceramics.
Address: O’Relly and Avenida del Puerto, Old Havana.
Open:Mondays through Saturdays 9:00 18:30.
Entrante fee: $1.00 CUC