Fortress Campeche | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Fortress Campeche

No sooner had Campeche become an important port (mid-16th century) than pirates found it. Frequent raids resulted in massacres of the inhabitants, debauching of the women and financial loss to the Spanish Crown. One or more of these outrages finally convinced King Philip II to order the construction of walls to protect the city. Portions of these fortifications have survived to the present day.


The plan was to surround the city with a hexagon of ten-foot-thick walls. All of today's restored historic center is situated within the original outline of the fortifications.


At eight points along the wall, bastions were built to house artillery with interlocking fields of fire, protecting the curtain walls in between. Large bronze cannon provided firepower.


Pictured is one of the two bronze cannon remaining in Campeche, here displayed inside one of the city gates rather than on the ramparts of a bastion as originally placed.

Seven of the original eight bastions survive, along with some sections of wall. One is used as a museum with a small exhibit of Mayan stone carvings, such as this exquisite pair of Chac masks.


The seaward walls once plunged into the ocean. Over the years, land was reclaimed from the Gulf so that today, the walls are well inland.


One of the bulwarks has an intriguing narrow doorway.


What could be inside?


Ah. The facilities. A one-holer for what, maybe a hundred men? I imagine the defenders had to hold off more than pirates. It doesn't appear to be any cleaner than restrooms on the autopistas. Mexican baños have been consistent over the centuries.

Later, other defenses were added. Two 18th-century forts were built to the north and south of the city.


This is the northern fort, now a museum: The Fuerte Museo San José del Alto. Note the beveled apertures to allow swiveling of cannon, and the sinuous, easily defended passage to the gate. At the end of the passage, there's a working drawbridge over a dry moat. Forts such as this one were already outmoded in Europe, but during colonial times, no enemy power had siege cannon in the Americas to reduce the walls.

Pirates no longer plunder in Campeche, but they spread evil here even today. Tee shirts with skull-and-crossbones stencils infest shop windows, and the waiters at the disco across the street from our hotel are required to wear buccaneer costumes. They look stupid.

We were in Campeche for five days, and I didn't have time to explore even half of the old fortifications and the museums they now house, making the city a candidate for another visit sometime.