The city was founded in 1540 by Spanish conquistadores as 'San Francisco de Campeche' atop the pre-existing Maya city of Canpech or Kimpech. The Pre-Columbian city was described as having 3,000 houses and various monuments, of which little trace remains.
Due to the constant attacks of both English and Dutch buccaneers and pirates such as Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Laurens de Graff, Kornelius Jols, Jacobo Jackson, Jean Lafitte, Francisco de Grammont, Bartolomé Portugués, William Parker, Francisco Nau, Edward Mansvelt, Henry Morgan, Lewis Scot, Roche Braziliano and Michel de Grammont for almost 160 years, in 1686 the government started to fortify the city.
The French engineer Louis Bouchard de Becour was commissioned to unify all the defensive works that surrounded the city with a wall. At its completion, the wall surrounding the city of Campeche was 2,560 meters in length, forming an irregular hexagon around the main part of the city, with eight defensive bastions on the corners. These bulwarks now serve different functions:
Santiago: Used as the Botanical Garden 'Xmuch´haltún'. Reconstructed.
San Pedro: Former prison.
San Francisco: Protects the Land Gate. Houses the library of the INAH.
San Juan: Protects the Land Gate.
San Carlos: Holds the City Museum. This fort was the first one built. Protects the Sea Gate.
Nuestra Señora de la Soledad: Also protects the Sea Gate. It is the largest one and holds the Museum of City History.
It also contained four gates to allow access to the main quarters. The main entrances are the Puerta de la tierra ("Land Gate"), built in 1732, and the Puerta del mar ("Sea Gate"). The Land Gate is kept as a tourist attraction, having a light and sound show three nights each week and keeping original supplies and items from the XVII century. The other gates were Guadalupe and San Román, connecting to the outside neighborhoods.
Additionally, two main forts protected the city from two nearby hills on each side, the forts of San José el Alto (built in 1762) and San Miguel. These forts gave long-range artillery coverage and served also as look-outs. They were built before the walls of the city. The fort of San Miguel is used as a museum and houses a collection of pre-Hispanic items. The fort of San José houses a collection of boats and weapons of the period.
Campeche and Sisal are the two vital Spanish ports of New Spain. They are the primary source of metals for the Deep Natural Harbor at Havana. They also provide an alternative market to the French in the Gulf of Mexico if Belle Isle and/or New Orleans is lost.