It is said Ibero-America was born in Holguin. One of humanity’s greatest encounters took place there when Columbus, on his first trip to the so-called New World, landed at Bariay, a narrow coral rock bay north of the present province, and met the native community of the region on October 1492.
Captain Francisco Garcia Holguin, a Spanish colonizer, founded and named the present capital of the province in 1545. Seven years later the small town became a city. These important events have left many traces in Holguin.
On May 3 1950 Franciscan Fr. Antonio de Alegria placed a wooden cross at the top of a hill, some 257 meters above sea level and 127 above the city itself. Since then, the site has become the destination of religious pilgrimages and, more recently, one of the venues for the Romerias de Mayo, a people’s party mixing tradition and modernity that gathers the best of writers and artists from Cuba and the world. Gibara, to the north of Holguin, is called the Villa Blanca, and was the only urban settlement, apart from Havana, that was surrounded by a wall.
One-third of Cuba's archaeological wealth was discovered in Holguin Province and there are, mainly in the municipality of Banes, some 100 sites with native traces. No other area in Cuba reports such numbers, so Banes is Cuba's archaeological capital. The EI Chorro de Maita alone, on the out skirts of Banes, is a native burial ground where 108 remains are exhibited exactly as found, at the same depth and facing toward the sun.
A visit to the Bariay National Monument Park is like time travel. Some two square kilometers, containing a monument commemorating the encounter between two cultures, is full of history and natural beauty at the exact place of Columbus's landing.
Visitors are welcomed at the entrance, next to a small rebuilt Spanish fort, and invited to board a carriage for a tour of the park. The guests will witness actors performing how the original settlers conducted their daily activities: working the land and preparing cassava bread that was, together with iguanas and turtles, a key ingredient in their diet.
Farther along on the tour, an Admiral Columbus impersonator carries a wooden cross and takes possession on be half of the Spanish King and Queen - of the "discovered land" and will invite visitors to follow him to the end of Bariay Bay, where there are two circular houses similar to the small village Columbus saw when he landed. A group of dancers will perform native dances and rites, named areitos. There is also a restaurant, designed in the style of a 15th Century Spanish tavern that offers great wines.
This is a privileged visit in that it mixes history and culture with the care of the environment, so that the scene Columbus admired and described on his first trip and that, unknown to him, gave birth to Ihero-America, may live on.