THE WALLS OF HAVANA, witnesses to history
BY MERCY RAMOS / PHOTOS: JOSÉ (TITO) MERIÑO
Old Havana is one of the most visited places by foreign and Cuban tourists for holding so much history that, although well-known to many, most regular visitors are happy to hear tales of previous centuries repeatedly because there may always be some new information.
Something that attracts a lot of visitor attention are the ruins of what used to be the walls of Havana, built around the area that was the Cuban capital in the 17th century.
The idea to build the walls was due to the fact that Old Havana was highly coveted by corsairs and pirates at that time, due to its geographical location and the potential it had for the economic development of the island. That’s why it was frequently attacked by outlaws.
In order to protect the city, the fortresses of La Real Fuerza, La Punta, El Morro, La Cabaña and the towers of Cojímar, La Chorrera and San Lázaro were built. However, the city was still vulnerable, so in 1603 there was a project to construct the wall in the inland area.
Besides that project there were others, such as building a wooden wall, but they were all forgotten for various reasons. However, in 1667, Carlos II, King of Spain, ordered the fortification of Havana.
The construction of these great walls began on January 3, 1671, during the government of Francisco Rodríguez de Ledesma, and was finished almost a century later, because although the land-facing side was ready in 1698, it wasn’t until 1740 that the side facing the bay was completed.
With a length of about 4,892 meters, an average height of 10 meters and a thickness of 1.40 meters, it was protected by 3,400 men equipped with weaponry of 180 pieces. At first, there were only two gates to access the walled city, but later it had nine entrances that closed every night at eight o’clock sharp, after cannon shot warnings, and opened at 4:30 in the morning.
Over time, the city grew and the area outside the walls, ‘extramuros’ as it was called, got bigger and bigger. Then, as pirate attacks became less frequent, it was decided to demolish the walls.
Nowadays, as historical evidence, there are some wall remains in various places of Old Havana that have lasted through the centuries. Nevertheless, there is something that, without doubt, became a great tradition, that every night at nine o’clock you can hear the sound of the cannon shot by old cannons from La Cabaña fortress, a beautiful ceremony that can be enjoyed by anyone who visits the city.