Cuba, seven jewels and five centuries of history (part 2)

Sancti Spiritus, crib of the “guayabera” (1514)

The ‘guayabera’ is maybe one of the most famous pieces of clothes in America. Cuban artist like Joseito Fernandez, author of the Guantanamera, Benny Moré and Compay Segundo, wore the anthological outfit through diverse sceneries and geographies around the world.

The tradition says that in Sancti spiritus, one of the first seven villas founded by the Spanish in Cuba, is where this Cuban, traditional and famous outfit was born. Some say that at the beginning it was called ‘yayabera’, because farmers close to the river Yayabo used to wear them, but afterwards they were renamed ‘guayabera’ because people used to put the delicious ‘guayaba’ (guava) fruit in their pockets.

It is also said that one day a farmer of the region asked his wife to make him a comfortable shirt to wear in the field. The lady did as he said without thinking that her innovative design would become so popular, among the people of the area first, and worldwide afterwards.

In the nineteenth century in Sancti Spiritus, a construction boom happened and many great quality buildings were constructed, some of which are still standing today. One of them is the bridge that goes across the Yayabo River, which has a roman style, and it is a one of a kind bridge and the only one left in the country; it is the main icon of the city. It was build at the beginning of that century and it is a solid structure made of lime, sand, and bricks, with five arcs.

According to some storytellers, it was on the premises of this Old Spanish city in which the first mass in Cuba was celebrated. It was also here the first place in which an Iberian voice defended the rights of the indigenous that inhabited the nation before the Spanish came.

Camagüey, land of jars and cobbled streets (1514-1515)

The villa of Santa María del Puerto del Principe, former colonial demarcation that now belongs to the Cuban province of Camagüey, it has the most asymmetric urban layout of all the cities of the Caribbean country. Its streets are like a maze that seems like a very complex spider web, capable of disorienting the most experienced bystander and of amazing everybody with incredible visuals, small streets and urban lattices.

Walking by its historical centre is like discovering new surprises in every corner. In its historical centre there exists the most short and tight street in all of Cuba. There are also churches, plazas and colonial mansions with interior courtyards preceded by big clay jars.

It is also known as the City of the Tinajones, (big crocks) because of the huge containers they proliferated, it was the most popular way of storing water for a long time due to the dryness of the area. Today most of the houses of the area are still standing, they are from different sizes but they are all icons that identify the city.

Since the nineteenth century it was one of the richest localities of the island. The Plaza of San Juan de Dios  -the most representative from the colonial period for its architecture- is from this century, as well as the Church of the Sociedad and the Merced, that has the biggest piece of silver in the island. It is a holy sepulcher that was built with more than 23 thousand pieces of that metal that a devotee donated.

Santiago de Cuba, the capital of the Caribbean (1515)

The city of Santiago de Cuba is one of the first Cuban villas that keep its foundational colonial characteristics in a better condition. A witness of this is the Cespedes Park, the old Square of Arms and the main public space of the city, that keeps its structure according to the ancient ordinances of the Indian Laws.

The cathedral stands out; it is the first of its kind in Cuba, also the government palace, a majestic colonial building, and the home of the first governor, Diego Velázquez, that is at the same time the oldest home in America.

The historic centre of the city, declared National Monument because of its exceptional historic, cultural and architectonic values, it has the French Tomb Charity of the West, considered Humanity’s Heritage by the UNESCO. Also very close to the heart of the city, is the first museum of Cuba, the Casa de la Trova, where the emblematic musical genre was born, and were the house of José María Heredia is, the first romantic pore of the continent.

Other places very closely linked to the evolution of this of this old Spanish villa, that bring thousands of visitors every year, are the Fortress San Pedro of the Rock, Heritage of the Humanity since 2007, the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Charity of Copper, the Santa Patrona of cuba, and old French coffee crops of the Gran Piedra (Big Stone), an indelible mark of the migrations of conquerors and slaves that left Haiti. There you can see some of the most amazing landscapes of the Caribbean nation.

Some of the popular parties of Santiago de Cuba are also very popular, that are many centuries old, such as the Carnival, a natural scenery of groups that have some of the most rooted Cuban traditions, a mixture of Spanish, African, Aboriginal, French and other cultures.

Havana, capital of all Cubans (1515-1519)

A cosmopolitan, communicative and open city, Havana is also a place that knows how to live its interior life with true intensity and interesting mysteries yet to be solved. The old villa of San Cristobal of Havana, founded between 1515 and 1519, is nowadays one of the main touristic spots of Cuba.

Its majesty is made of massive bastioned fortresses that still protect this old colonial building that is preserved like few others in its development and primal urban design.

Havana has known how to keep, just like very few American cities, the architectural heritage of its colonial past, which travelers love to admire endlessly. This is why the UNESCO named this Historical Centre Humanity’s heritage in 1982 and the Cuban government named it a national monument in 1976.

This city is nowadays one of the most popular touristic destinations of the Caribbean. Proofs of this are its luxury hotels, in the historic zone, at the beach and in Miramar. Here there are Traditions, museums and institutions that are true bulwarks for humanity, what makes it such an interesting port in Latin America and the Caribbean. It receives more than a million visitors every year.

The hometown of a national Cuban hero, José Martí, is the epicenter of cultural, economic and political life in the country. Among its main features are the Old Spanish buildings, the majestic National Capitol, street 23 of Vedado –maybe the most famous of the country- and its historical centre.

By Leyden Figueredo, PanAmericanWorld
August 25, 2014





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