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San Fernando de Omoa Fortress

Date of Submission: 11/06/2021
Criteria: (iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Honduras to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Municipality of Omoa, department of Cortés
Coordinates: 16 P 388572.93 m E; 1744749.95 m N
Ref.: 6540

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The San Fernando Fortress is located in the bay of Omoa on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. In the municipality of Omoa, there are altitudinal differences that go from zero at sea level to 2,242 meters above sea level in the Sierra de Omoa, which causes climatic variations in precipitation, temperature and relative humidity1.

This region is part of the Sula Valley, which, in pre-Hispanic times, was inhabited to the west by peoples belonging to the Mayan ethnic group, and to the east, by the Tolupán ethnic group, a group that still survives in Honduras. This area was part of the trade circuits of the Mesoamerican economy, and was one of the main suppliers of cacao to the Yucatán peninsula2. The Toqueguas were also located on the north coast in the Indian village of Chivana between Puerto Caballos and Omoa3. From the end of the 15th century, the surviving peoples continued to exist as indigenous villages in some cases until the 19th century, several of which were close to Omoa. This was the socioeconomic context that Hispanics encountered at the beginning of the 16th century, when they arrived in Honduras and began the conquest. Later, the Port of Omoa was established and consolidated as one of the most significant in the Central American region.

The fortresses were used to defend commercially relevant ports from attacks by corsairs, pirates and naval fleets from Spain's rivals such as England, thus proving the importance of the transcontinental trade route known as the Route of the Indies, and its economic, political and military implications. From Cadiz, the convoy of trade ships crossed the Atlantic and sailed into the Caribbean to unload their goods in ports such as Veracruz (Mexico), Havana (Cuba), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Portobelo (Panama), Trujillo and Omoa (Honduras), where the trade continued in carriages or mules along royal trails through inland provinces and on to the towns, forming an entire commercial supply network4.

The role of the port of Omoa in the Spanish colonial commercial system in America was evident between the metropolis and the Capitanía General de Guatemala as the point of trade between the two, where silver and gold extracted from the mines of the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa in the Province of Honduras was exchanged.

Thus, the construction of a fort was planned to safeguard the port's integrity on the Caribbean coast of the former Capitanía General de Guatemala, which would form a line of defense together with the forts of San Juan de Ulúa and Campeche in Mexico, San Felipe in Río Dulce, Guatemala, and Santa Bárbara in Trujillo5.

The Fortress is not a unique and isolated building, but rather part of the El Real Fortified Enclosure compound, the first fortification built to protect the construction of the Fortress, where the King's storehouses are located: the lime and brick ovens of Milla Tres, an endroit of evident colonial origin given its design, construction material, the brickwork and the dry moat6, a characteristic element that makes it different from most other fortresses on the coasts of the Caribbean Sea.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Bourbon reforms established a series of political and administrative changes implemented from the 18th century onwards in the overseas territories. Among these reforms of the Bourbon dynasty, the restructuring of military defense was a very important strategy, which Spain urgently needed due to the constant interference of powers such as England in its American territories. In this way, military architecture boomed during the 18th century.

The Spanish crown gave great strategic value to the Kingdom of Guatemala given its geographical position in the very center of the American continent. It comprised an extensive and generally unpopulated territory, bordering the viceroyalty of New Spain with Oaxaca, to the southeast with Yucatan and to the south with the Province of Veragua in Panama, with extensive coasts on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea7.

The projects to fortify the Port of Omoa date back to the end of the 17th century. Due to its location and topographical suitability, the fortress of Omoa is positioned within a group of defensive buildings designed by Spain's best known architects and military engineers of the time, such as Bautista and Juan Bautista Antonelli (father and son); Count of Aranda, Antonio de Murga, Luis Díez Navarro, José González Ferminor and Agustín Crame.

The president of the Real Audiencia de Guatemala, Enrique Enriquez de Guzman, informed King Charles II of Spain in 1685 of the urgent need to fortify a site in the region in view of the increase of English establishments in Belize, producing continuous English incursions in the ports of Trujillo and Caballos, whence de Guzman then saw the "extreme need" to build a fortress in the port of Omoa8. Therefore, a quadrangular shaped fortress with a bulwarked system was proposed. These bulwarked designs were brought to America by Spanish military engineers. From that technical point of view, the works had to be executed in such a way that all the pieces or parts had to flank each other, for defensive balance and security.

The Board of War of Madrid did not accept the initial proposal of the quadrangular plan presented by Eng. Diez Navarro considering it too large, approving instead a triangular plan with a semicircular curtain wall (north curtain) presented by the Count of Aranda in 17569 as it was considered more advantageous, much cheaper and perhaps more useful. In proposing the triangular shape, the Count had to devise a solution to the disadvantages that the triangular shape had regarding the function of a fort. Among his modifications was the implementation of a curved curtain wall, thus achieving a greater distribution of the defense artillery, sacrificing any fixed angles. Triangular plan designs have been seldom used10 because treatise authors did not recommend bulwarked fortifications because their shape resulted in sharp corners that were very vulnerable for artillery11 and were only acceptable if the site did not allow for any other design.

The work began on September 18, 175912 in charge of Eng. Francisco Albarez, and by February 1768 there was already a significant progress in the works, such as some archways designed by Eng. Antonio de Murga13. The Fortress was not completely finished and surely this was caused by the lack of resources and the immediacy of making it operational in 1775.

Four years later on October 1779, the English forces invaded and took the Fortress in the context of a regional attack from the Caribbean against the Capitania General de Guatemala, however, the Spaniards recovered the control of the fortress in November of the same year, and finally expelling the English forces out of the region in 1783. In April 1783, the Captain General of Guatemala, Matías de Gálvez, informed the King that the Spaniards were the absolute owners of all of Honduras. By then the fortress had become a vital logistical support point for the campaign against the English and a symbol of Spanish imperial power.

During the construction of the Omoa Fortress, a settlement was organized around it. Almost all the inhabitants of the Port were people who came to work in the construction of the fortifications.

At the beginning, indigenous labor was used14 for the construction of the fortress; indigenous groups forced to work -in a different climate than they used to live- arrived intermittently and, after two or four months, the survivors returned to their places of origin. They were also employed in defense tasks, to stand guard, in road construction and cultivation of milpas for food and a few products for export, thus reducing the population of the areas surrounding the fortress by half15.

That was a reason behind the construction delays, since only the soldiers' garrisons and some very few of their relatives lived in Omoa, many of whom also succumbed to illnesses, which made the purchase of a slave population in Jamaica necessary. In 1759, the purchase of a batch of two hundred Africans was reported, and by 1777 the number of African slaves amounted to 611.

Omoa had a diverse population of Spaniards, indigenous people (mostly from central Honduras), African slaves (to build and maintain the fortress), mulattos and free blacks (slaves escaped from the English settlements, mostly from Belize). In addition, by 1771 there were 30 different ethnicities among the artillerymen working in the port, making the Omoa plaza a typical site of "cosmopolitan Atlantic societies" that spoke diverse languages and came from different cultural and geographic settings: Ireland, Seville, Campeche, Malaga, San Pedro Sula, Comayagua, Cuba, Maracaibo, Xalapa, Canary Islands, Curacao, Lima and Cadiz, a city from which a crew of eight masonry journeymen also sailed in 1769, since labor of this type was scarce; therefore it is not surprising that several young slaves were sent to Guatemala and Cuba to be apprenticed16.

The construction materials used in the fortress are a mix between the traditional ones for such buildings at the time, and regional materials. For example, in the absence of available stone in the Omoa region, brick17 and carved black coral rock were used, as can be seen in the curtain walls. This is found in the fortress due to its properties, allowing it to absorb the impact of attacks, reducing the risk of destruction of the curtain walls. In addition to being structurally useful, carved coral was used as a decorative element in the ledges of the chapel inside the fortress.

The Fortress of San Fernando de Omoa and the associated defense structures (such as El Real) are of exceptional value because they constitute an outstanding example of cultural exchange owing to the different social groups therein- indigenous, mestizos, Europeans and African slaves who participated in their construction- as well as the principles of European Renaissance military engineering, adapted to the Spanish defence needs in the Caribbean in general, and those of Honduras in particular.

Criterion (iv):
The fortress of San Fernando de Omoa was built to protect the Gulf of Honduras and the port of Omoa, one of the most important ones of the Capitanía General de Guatemala in colonial times, and is an eminent example of Spanish military architecture in the eighteenth century. Withremarkable engineering applied in its triangular design, adding a curvature in the north curtain wall to make it more resistant to the attacks of naval forces such as the English, as well as corsairs and pirates that attacked the port, it is unique among the Spanish fortresses built in America.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The authenticity of the fortress of San Fernando de Omoa is outstanding in terms of location, forms, design and materials. It has undergone practically no changes since the mid-18th century when it was built. The restorations carried out have been aimed at the structural stability of the fortress, including minor maintenance works to ensure its state of preservation. To this end, a series of multidisciplinary actions have been carried out, such as reinforcing failed, collapsed or cracked parts of the building, and vegetation control, among others. All restoration work on this site has been supported by archaeological research, structural studies and technical support from the staff of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, which is why there is a clear distinction between the original elements and the new, all of which were materials applied with techniques compatible with the traditional construction system of the fortress.

As a building of historical and anthropological value, it was declared a National Monument by Decree No. 93 of March 30, 195918 and according to Executive Agreement No. 170 of March 20, 1987, the Historic-Tourist Complex of Omoa was designated: Laguna de Centeno, La Loma and Los Hornos de Milla Tres19.

The San Fernando de Omoa Fortress is a site owned and protected by the State of Honduras and under the custody of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History. Currently, the fortress is a site museum and is the main attraction for tourist activities in the municipality of Omoa.


The Fortress of San Fernando de Omoa has a high degree of integrity and all the necessary elements to express its Outstanding Universal Value: its triangular design, bulwarks, sentry boxes, vaults, dry moat and curtain walls constitute a tangible legacy of the Spanish presence in Central America.

The restoration work that has been carried out since the end of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century corresponds to the methodologies already used in the previous "Advisory studies for the fortresses" of the city of Cartagena de Indias and its external castles, in 1969; that of the Forts of Portobelo (Panama) in 1971 -at the request of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS), among others-; and that of the Forts of Portobelo (Panama) in 1971 -at the request of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS), among others20.

Such was the case in 1997 when the OAS conducted an "Advisory Study" for the restoration of the fortresses of Omoa, focusing directly on the problem of revitalizing the ruins of the old El Real Fortified Enclosure de Omoa (1752-1758) and especially the Fort of San Fernando (1759-1775), whose condition was delicate because of water seepage due to torrential rains in the tropics. Also, in 2011 a restoration, consolidation and waterproofing project was carried out between the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH) and the Honduran Institute of Tourism (IHT).

Potential threats that could affect the Fortress of San Fernando de Omoa come mainly from coastal projects and industries located in the vicinity of the property. It is necessary to protect its environment to guarantee its conservation.

Comparison with other similar properties

Fort of San Juan de Ulua in Veracruz (Mexico)

As in the fortress of Omoa, coral rock was used for the construction of the curtain walls. It attracts the concern of specialists, who point out that along with other coastal fortifications in Mexico it should be declared World Heritage. It is currently a national cultural heritage site in Mexico.

San Felipe de Lara Castle, Golfo Dulce (Guatemala)

In 1955, when the ruins were already a tourist attraction, they were rebuilt by the architect Francisco Ferrús Roig, who thoroughly investigated the events of the history of the structure to the point of visiting the General Archive of the Indies, in Spain, where he located plans and documents related to the castle. In 2002 it was inscribed on UNESCO's tentative list of World Heritage Sites.

Fort San Fernando de Bocachica, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia)

It is located on the island of Tierrabomba in the insular district of Bocachica, a fishing village. This, together with the Fort of San José, served as a combined force to protect the only maritime entrance to the city. The plans were drawn up by engineer Antonio de Arévalo and construction began in 1753. It is a World Heritage Site since it is part of the defensive system of the city of Cartagena de Indias. And it has the characteristic that its curtain wall has a horseshoe shape (curve) with two bulwarks, which makes it similar in plan to San Fernando de Omoa.

Fortresses of Panama's Caribbean coast, Portobelo/San Lorenzo (Panama)

It is a remarkable example of an open fortified city, destroyed and rebuilt several times. It is one of the most characteristic adaptations of Spanish military architecture to the tropical climate and the features of the landscape, sharing the same characteristics with San Fernando de Omoa

Fortress of the Immaculate Conception (Nicaragua).

The monument is a Military Campaign Fortress from the 17th century (1673) located on a promontory of the San Juan River between the Great Lake of Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea, within the limits of an area considered an Indio-Maíz Biosphere Reserve. This fortress -like that of San Fernando de Omoa- was part of the line of Spanish fortifications in the Caribbean established to fight against pirate attacks. It was of utmost importance for the defense of the Province of Nicaragua against the interests of the English Crown that sought to dominate the South Sea.

Redhonduras. (november 2, 2020). RedHonduras.com Municipality of Omoa.

2 Soriano, I. & Gómez, P. "Puerto Caballos: nacimiento, evolución y muerte de una quimera transoceánica (1541- 1607)" (1541-1607). AFEHC Bulletin N°47, published on 04 December 2010.

3Sheptak, R, (2007). Los Toqueguas de la Costa Norte de Honduras en la Época Colonial, YAXKIN, XXIII (2) p. 151.

4 Muñoz Espejo, Francisco Martín. La valoración universal de la fortificación y las fortificaciones virreinales en México. APUNTES vol. 17, núms. 1-2: p. 79.

5 Muñoz Espejo, Francisco Martín. La valoración universal de la fortificación y las fortificaciones virreinales en México. APUNTES vol. 17, núms. 1-2: pp. 86-88. y Zapatero, J.M., 1997, El Fuerte de San Fernando y las fortificaciones de Omoa. Edición limitada, IHAH, bajo licencia de la OEA. 1997. Pp. 5-20.

6 ...The general moat of Fort San Fernando is of the so-called dry variety, without any ditch or gutter, nowhere does its width reach the normal proportion of 42 yards, however, it proves to be a well-conceived work; in the western subsector, it is known that it was not necessary to build it because the sea served as the moat due to the humidity and the shallow bottom of the beach... taken from Zapatero, J.M., 1997, El Fuerte de San Fernando y las fortificaciones de Omoa.

7Johnston Aguilar, René. Construcciones militares y la estrategia para la defensa del Reino de Guatemala. Anales de la Academia de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala, XCI (págs. 239-278). Guatemala 2016. P. 10.

8 Zapatero, J.M., 1997, El Fuerte de San Fernando y las fortificaciones de Omoa. Edición limitada, IHAH, bajo licencia de la OEA, p. 16.

9 Ibid., pp. 5-20.

10 Another triangular fortress, which disappeared during the second half of the XVII century, was that of San Agustín in Florida; another current example is the fortress of San Fernando de Bocachica in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (dating from the XVIII century), which has architectural characteristics similar to that of Omoa since it has a semicircular plan with two bulwarks.

11Vera Botí, Alfredo. (2001) La arquitectura militar del renacimiento a través de los tratadistas de los siglos XV y Tesis doctoral, Universitat Politécnica de Valencia, 318

12 Plano del Fuerte de San Fernando de Omoa, en la Costa de Honduras que se empezó a construir el 18 de septiembre de 1759. Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) Retrieved from: http://pares.mcu.es/ParesBusquedas20/catalogo/show/19582?nm

13 Plano del Castillo que se está construyendo para resguardo del Puerto de San Fernando de Omoa, 28 de abril de 1769. Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) Retrieved from: http://pares.mcu.es/ParesBusquedas20/catalogo/show/20027?nm

14 Newson, L (1992). El Costo de la Conquista, Tegucigalpa: Editorial Guaymuras, p. 260.

15 Fasquelle, Rodolfo Pastor (2008), Historia de Omoa. IHAH. Tegucigalpa. p. 35.

16 Cáceres, R. (2008). Omoa: Cruce de Identidades. YAXKIN XXIV (1), pp. 119-121.

17 Zapatero, J.M., 1997, El Fuerte de San Fernando y las fortificaciones de Omoa. Edición limitada, IHAH, bajo licencia de la OEA. 1997. Pp. 5-20.

18 (May 11, 1959). Decreto no. 93. La Gaceta, número 16,775.

19 (September 7, 1990). Acuerdo Ejecutivo no. 170. La Gaceta, numero 26,233.

20 Zapatero, J.M., 1997, El Fuerte de San Fernando y las fortificaciones de Omoa. Edición limitada, IHAH, bajo licencia de la OEA.

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