History has seen its fair share of skirmishes and battles between countries and men who forever seem bound to find fault with the borders that limit them. Such was the case in the history of Cuba, which was very much at the center of New World politics ever since the arrival of early European settlers. The Spanish arrived in Cuba in the early 1500s, and in a relatively short amount of time, they decided that Cuba was very much the Key to the New World.
The Spanish were not the only ones cruising the waters in this hemisphere, however, and as Havana was positioned on an idyllic harbor, there soon came the need to protect their new capital, and their island landhold. Invading pirates and other European countries would come to Cuba looking for riches of whatever kind, and so a need was born to build the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, which in English, translates to Castle of the Royal Force. Today it stands in Old Havana Cuba, a testament to the trials and tribulations of Cuba's past.
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
Legend has it that French pirate vessels were responsible for an attack on Havana in 1538. Demanding money and setting fire to the city's first real church, it was quite a slap in the face. Locals became tired of having to live in what seemed like constant threat, and the Spanish forces concurred. The original Castle of the Royal Force was a modest structure offering little in the way of true protection, which would come back to haunt to city. Word was spread that Cuba was ripe for attack, and a subsequent French affront in 1555 resulted in pillaging and destruction.
Back in Spain, those in power were not happy, and King Felipe II declared that the Castillo de la Real Fuerza be rebuilt. Around this time, it was also decided that the Castillo del Morro be built. It wasn't until the year 1582 that the Castle of the Royal Force was finished, but that is early enough to make it the oldest surviving fort in all the Americas. Some of the Spanish colonialists thought the castle was still pretty inadequate, but with other impressive structures being built, it took on less of a singular role.
Built in a square pattern with thick walls, the Castle of the Royal Force was certainly solid. However, it's location on an inland moat proved to be too far inland, and it was in the end deemed too small. For some time, the thought was to destroy it, but it survives to this day, thankfully, helping to give Old Havana Cuba a big part of its identity. Of particular interest at the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, is the west tower, which is topped by a weather vane known as La Giraldilla. The bronze statue of a woman has become a symbol of Havana, and supposedly, it is meant to depict the wife of Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto. When de Soto sailed from Cuba to Florida to conquer it in 1539, his trip saw him gone for quite some time. Believing he had perished, it is said that de Soto's wife, Doña Isabel de Bobadilla, died of a broken heart. La Giraldilla awaits her lover atop the Castle of the Royal Force, and it is an inspiring work indeed. You might hardly realize that the La Giraldilla that adorns the castle is not the actual one. That statue, which dates back to 1634, can be found at the Museo de la Ciudad, which is another treasure found in Old Havana Cuba.
If you are interested in historic tours in Cuba, you won't mind paying the nominal fee to tour the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, and with Old Havana being such a dazzling all around district, you can not go wrong exploring all it has to offer. Inside the Castle of the Royal Force, you might interest yourself in a side tour of the Museo de la Cerámica Artística Cubana, which displays native Cuban ceramic works.
You can also belly up to a bar here, grab a bite at the snack stand, or peruse the good's at the souvenir shop. Many visitors to Havana choose to find accommodations in Old Havana, as it is where you can find not only some of the best Havana hotels, but also the most interesting historic vestiges, such as the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. Care has been taken to restore much of what Old Havana has to offer, which goes to show just how much Cuba is embracing its growing tourism industry.