The Nine O'Clock Cannon Shot

The Nine O'Clock Cannon Shot

Heritage & Traditions

By César Antonio Rodríguez / Photos: Prensa Latina

Each night, from any place in the capital, the people of Havana check the precision of their watches when they hear the sound of the nine o' clock cannon shot. It is a tradition inherited from colonial times. A ship docked at port would fire a shot to signal the closing and opening of the gates defending the city walls.

Centuries later, the military tradition is continued but staged only at night. The cannons used have different names: Solano Ruperto, La Parca, Ganimedes, and Capitolino. They no rounds, now they have been replaced with jute bags falling some feet away.

The ceremony is performed at the San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress, just overlooking the entrance of Havana Bay. Some minutes before the shot, a torch bearer appears and warns of the imminent closing of the city gates.

Next, a platoon of artillerymen, dressed in 18th century uniforms, comes marching led by a standard-bearer with the old Spanish flag and a drummer.

The Nine O'Clock Cannon ShotAs soon as they form a line next to the wall of the castle, the captain commands: "For the nine o'clock cannon shot, load!"

Artillerymen place the gunpowder inside the cannon's mouth and then you can hear: "Maximum elevation!"

Then, the commander says: "Light up the torch! " The roll of a drum sets the pace of a soldier who, with the torch in one hand, steps up to the cannon.

"For one salvo, on my command… Firel".

The noise blankets nighttime Havana and brings a smile to the many spectators, lighting up the amazed eyes of the children watching.