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That little round fortress-like building in the middle of the harbor in front of the Opera House is arguably the ultimate piece of waterside real estate. These days it's a party and wedding reception venue without peer. However, for thousands of years beforehand it had been a rocky outcrop utilized by Aborigines as a fishing spot. Later, hardened criminals in the early days of the colony enjoyed the hospitality of Pinchgut prison, as it became known, due to the meager rations of bread and water.
After being toughened up to repel a possible Russian naval attack in the 19th century, which never eventuated, 8,000 tons of sandstone went into the famous Martello Tower seen today, a much favored defence battlement design of the British Empire. The tower's gun room was built around three existing muzzle-loading cannons. The result meant the room was too small to actually fire the cannons. Thankfully, this design flaw was never fully tested during the Second World War, except for suffering some friendly fire when a US cruiser took aim at a Japanese sub in 1942 and hit the fort instead.
Fort Denison today is the ultimate New Year's Eve destination. For a casual visit any day, ferries from Circular Quay transport you, guided tours show you, and a cafe/restaurant sustains you.