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Santiago de Cuba, Heritage City

Santiago de Cuba, Heritage City

Posted by Leyden Figueredo on April 17, 2014

In a deep bay to the East- South of Cuba, 900 kilometres away from Havana, in a privileged region with a great goodness for navigation and very close to Dominican Republic, Diego Velázques de Cuellar founded Santiago de Cuba village in the summer of 1515. Although in its beginnings it was nothing but a small agglomeration of buildings, it was later named as the headquarters of the Bishopric of Cuba and in 1522 it received the title of ''city''.

The foundational population settled in the bay's valley, which is surrounded by a mountain range that makes the site look as a natural amphitheatre. Since then, such a graceful landscape has been respected in every edification and in the development of the city in general.

Due to its economic development, it is the second most important city of the island. The ''Noble and Very Loyal town'' -as it is written in its shield- has been blessed with extraordinary heritage wealth that makes of it an interesting Latin American spot that is able to seduce and enchant its visitors.

It is the only city in the country (and in the rest of the Antilles) that has three World Heritage elements: the San Pedro de la Roca Fortress and the System of Colonial Fortifications of the Bay; the Archaeological scenery of the first Coffee Plantations in South-East Cuba and finally , the French Tumba of Eastern Charity, considered as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage.

Since this city is one of the first seven villages founded by the Spaniards, it is now preparing to celebrate its 500 years in 2015, a revelry that includes restoration maintenance works of its main cultural strongholds, among them, those which are exponents of world culture.

San Pedro de la Roca Fortress

It is considered as a gem of the fortified Caribbean and it is an outstanding example of Military architecture in Latin America. In the Castle itself many cultural activities are held, such as the sunset ceremony, a beautiful daily ritual where an old cannon is fired as a farewell to the Sun.

The Fortress was built in 1638 by Italian Engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli - the same who was involved in the fortification of Havana- and with La Socapa and La Estrella (smaller fortresses), they were the defensive system of the village against naval attacks.

The 'Morro', as this 1997 World Heritage fortification is also known, has the features of two architectural styles: the Medieval one, that can be seen in the thickness of its walls and the tightness of its rooms; and the Renaissance style, very visible in the symmetry of its façade, its drawbridge and its dry moat.

Both typologies enrich the landscape, which is a paradise for photographers. Its strategic position is also notable: on a promontory at the entrance to the bay, facing the spectacular Caribbean Sea and with a mountain range behind.

Currently, San Pedro de la Roca Fortress is visited by national and foreign tourists, and it is the home of the Museum of Piracy, that keeps pieces of great historical significance that are evidence of adventures and looting of pirates and corsairs in the Antilles Sea.

The Archaeological Landscape of the first Coffee Plantations in South-East Cuba

The first coffee plantations, that date back to the 19th Century, are located at the foot of Sierra Maestra's mountain massif, where Pico Turquino is - the highest peak in the Antilles- and they are a great testimony of  the use of agricultural techniques in hard and virgin lands.

They are, on the other hand, a legitimate and genuine source that explains the social, economic and technological history of the Caribbean and Latin America; and they were declared World Heritage in the year 2000.

This is where La Isabelica, a coffee farm, is, 24 kilometres away from the city, very close to the Gran Piedra (Great Stone) one of the 180 material examples that are witnesses to the migrations of French colonists and their slaves who, running away from the revolution in Haiti, brought to Cuba their knowledge in hydraulic, architectural, housing and road engineering.

Walking through the plantations is venturing in a unique testimony of agricultural farming on a virgin mount, while the footprints of the first coffee productions are discovered. As a result, a cultural landscape was created in the 19th and 20th Century, where a new phase of development began.

The French Tumba of Eastern Charity.

The French Tomb ''Eastern Charity'' is a traditional and recreational area for music and dancing, that has had many forms since its origins in the 18th Century. It recreates the culture that arrived in Cuba with the French and Haitian immigrants and in 2003 it was declared an Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity masterpiece.

Old musical instruments, dances, ancestral chants, culinary traditions and original spiritual statutes and precepts and preserved in this place.

It is a genuine symbol of values that are deeply rooted in Cuba's identity, maintaining a legacy for more than 150 years by transmitting the knowledge and habits of an integration process that is the base of cultural diversity in Eastern Cuba.

Santiago de Cuba and its Heritage

The province of Santiago de Cuba, considered the most Caribbean spot of the island, has 49 sites or buildings that had been declared National Monuments, with high Heritage value and of great interest for foreign and local tourists.

Some of them are associated to important artistic milestones, such as the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery Heritage considered a open air museum and house of José María Heredia, the first Romantic poet of America.

Others are important for natural tourism and trekking, such as the Gran Piedra, in the Great Baconao Natural Park and the Pico Cristal natural site.

Despite this wealth that make of Santiago de Cuba an attractive land of exceptional values, specialists from different institutions are working to include in the World Heritage list two more places: the city's historical centre and the landscape 'El Cobre', a magnificent area related to exploitation of slave labour, the History of Catholicism and copper extraction, as its name suggests.

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