Cuba is considered a rising touristic destination that has more followers every day. Among its main attractions are its seven first cities, that are among the oldest in America, and that keep in a good measure the colonial Spanish air and spirit that they had when they were founded. They have most of the cultural, historic, and architectonic heritage of the country, and they receive millions of visitors every year.
In 1510, eighteen years after the Spanish expedition led by Christopher Colombus first landed in Cuba, the conquest began together with the colonization of most of this island of the Caribbean, a relatively pacific process that gave the island seven cities considered historic and architectonic jewels, that keep their seducing and original characteristics.
Witnesses of Cuba’s evolution, the main part of its architectonic, cultural and historic heritage, the seven oldest cities of this Latin American country are charming cities, real living museums, capable of seducing people with the details they have kept through five centuries of development.
These cities keep throughout time the tangible legacy of an architecture where different styles of many centuries and currents come together. In them one can find a colonial house with tiled ceilings, tall windows, and doorways that come together in an Art Nouveau or incredibly eclectic façade.
These cities challenge time, fighting privateers and pirates, and being there to see most of the most important scientists, literates, and paradigm solvers be born. Some buildings even, are of the oldest, and prettiest in the continent, and they were the tallest of their time.
However, Havanna, Santiago of Cuba and Trinidad are the ones who keep their historic centers in the best shape, with a great proportion of buildings, plazas and old squares, that have survived all these years and have kept that unique ambiance that links architecture history and culture together.
The UNESCO has even named the oldest parts of Havana and Trinidad Humans Heritage, and Santiago is currently working to get this recognition.
Baracoa, Cuba’s primate (1511-1512)
Located in the northeastern coast of the island, it was the first villa founded by the Spanish during colonization, it is also the first capital of the Caribbean country and it had the first bishopric.
Villa de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa, was the name that governor Diego Velázquez gave the city the 15th of august of 1511, that was far from being a big city but kept the charm of a provincial town, tied to its land and to very pristine costumes.
The absence of an amazing architecture is compensated by an exuberant nature, one of the most splendid and rich of the country; capable defying people with the biggest imagination. This land, one of the most Caribbean of the archipielago and of the region, is located next to a clean bay, and sinuous streets and a very lively life intersect it.
Baracoa is without a doubt a paradise for lovers of ecology and biodiversity, and for fans of bio-tourism da genuine product that ore than 60 archeological sites that survive in the place offer, with a hint of taino culture.
As an extra you can find some of the oldest Cuban traditions in Baracoa, related to the growing and harvesting of cocoa, coconut and coffee. In the Mayor church you find the Cross de la Parra, one of the 29 that Christopher Colombus put in America, the first Christian relic of the New World. Its authenticity has been scientifically tested and this is the only one left from that time.
Bayamo, crib of Cuban nationality (1513)
The second villa built by the Spanish colonizers in the west was created in 1513 in the middle of the biggest watershed of the country, a territory that was vastly populated by the indigenous.
The Villa of San Salvador of Bayamo, rich in traditions and history, is known as the crib city of Cuban nationality because it was the scenery were important milestones of Cuban history took place: it was the capital of the Republic in Arms which marked the first time Cubans stood for themselves to the Spanish in 1868.
It was in this city were the National Anthem was composed and sang for the first time, and this is the city its inhabitants chose to burn instead of yielding the power to the monarchy again. It is also the hometown of great heroes, such as the Founding Father, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who liberated his slaves and invited them to join the independence movement.
Despite the insurgent fire, there are still vestiges of the city’s origins, like the old Parrish Church together with innumerable and invaluable historic places.
The people from Bayamo keep the tradition of using horse-drawn carriages just like people in the colonial times. Driving around the city riding these vehicles of the nineteenth century is an attractive idea and a way to relive the past. Besides, another interesting adventure is the altarpiece of the Main Church of Dolores, today a cathedral and a handiwork of the seventeenth century, a typical piece from the Cuban baroque.
Trinidad, a trip to the colonial past (1514)
No other city keeps its colonial past in such great condition as Trinidad does, it keeps almost unaltered great architectonic pieces of great value: streets, squares, stone floor plazas, and buildings with clay roofs, with architectonic styles coming from Andalucia and Canarias.
As if it was held in time in its medieval disposition and constrained in the small space between the Escrambay mountains and the sea, this locality is a testimony of a time with urban charms and beauty, derived from its posterior sugar splendor in the Valley of the mills. Walking by the streets and plazas, its historic centre can be a time travel, maybe even to the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Even in our days, so full of technology and haste, this villa is seducing with its cobbled streets, brick sidewalks, and bremesian slabs, its houses astonish with their fan shutters, eaves and parapets with glasses, colorful screens and windows.
Trinidad is considered a cultural jewel of Cuba, a living museum named as Humanities Heritage by the UNESCO. When walking around this beautiful city, it is a sin not to walk around the Plaza Mayor, considered by specialists as the second most important in the country, after the Cathedral Plaza in Havana.
(end of part 1)
By Leyden Figueredo, PanAmericanWorld
August 25, 2014