Structure erected to strengthen a military position against attack. The defense of cities and trade centers, usually by high walls, has been important for centuries. The citadel was the fortress of the ancient world, appearing in cities of Egypt, Greece, and the Roman empire. By Classical Greek times, fortress architecture began incorporating ramparts (walled embankments) and towers. Roman fortresses of the 2nd century tended to be square or rectangular, and were usually of dressed (cut) stone. The medieval castle remained almost impregnable until gunpowder came into use.
Learn more about fortification with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Perched on the promontory on the opposite side of the harbor from Old Havana it can be viewed from miles around as it dominates the port entrance.
Built initially in 1589 in response to raids on Havana harbor, el Morro protected the mouth of the harbor with a chain being strung out across the to the fort at La Punta. It first saw action in the 1762 British expedition against Cuba when Lord Albemarle landed in Cojimar and attacked the fort defended by Luis Vicente de Velasco e Isla from its rear. It fell because the English could command the high ground. So when they had handed the island back in 1763 to the Spanish, the fort at La Cabaña was built to prevent this happening again.
Inside the gates is an exhibition on the lighthouses of Cuba – El Morro once housed a school for lighthouse keepers. There was actually a watchtower here until the English blew it up in their successful siege in 1762. The lighthouse was added in 1846.
The cannons around the fort are now badly rusted but the walls are in great shape. The fort has central barracks up to four stories high. A small underwater archeology exhibition is also located here. Noteworthy are the old latrines and their chute into the sea as are the two sets of doors and the drawbridge mechanism. The current harbor master's office is still housed in the fortress. A plaque dedicated by the ambassador of the United Kingdom commemorates the 1762 siege and a small memorial is located between two strong powder rooms in the North East Bastion.
A small turret at the end of the wall offers views of the sea crashing onto the rocks 20 meters below and take in the dimensions of the huge dry moat. The opposite side of the moat holds more modern guns and batteries, La Bateria de Velasco, and offers a sweeping view down to Cojimar.