The Castillo de la Real Fuerza is a fortress on the western side of the harbour in Havana, but set back from the entrance, and bordering the Plaza de Armas. Originally built to defend against attack by pirates, it suffered from a poor strategic position too far inside the bay. The fortress is considered to be the oldest stone fortress in the Americas, and is listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of “Old Havana and its Fortifications”.
In 1558 Bartolomé Sánchez, an engineer appointed by Phillip II of Spain, began work on a new fortress, initially known as the Fuerza Nueva teo replace a previous fortress, the Fuerza Vieja. The Fuerza Vieja was set back from the harbour, but the new fortress was planned to be closer to the harbour to give it a better strategic position. The ironworks were established in 1558, but the first stones were not laid until 1562 and was not completed until 1577, with slaves and French prisoners providing most of the labour. Built of limestone quarried from the Havana shoreline, the fortification incorporated thick sloping walls, a moat and drawbridge. The governor, Francisco Carreño, ordered the addition an upper storey as barracks and a munitions store, but on completion, the fortress proved to be too small for practical use.
The fortress was adopted by Juan de Tejeda as the residence of the Governor of Havana. Subsequent governors made changes to the building, and in 1634, Juan Vitrián de Viamonte added a watchtower with a weathervane sculpted in the form of a woman, by Gerónimo Martín Pinzón, an artist from Havana, and based on the figure crowning La Giralda in Seville. The facade of the fortress was demolished in 1851 to allow O’Reilly Street to go all the way to the docks, and prevent El Templete, completed in 1828, from being overshadowed by the fortress.