The Grilles of Camagüey
By: Mabel Guerra García
The use of metal grilles on the façades and inner areas of houses in the eastern city of Camagüey is both a symbol and tradition in the city which was founded in 1514 and, at the time, christened with the name Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe. Camagüey is located some 500 kms east of Havana.
Grilles as ornaments became part of the local history of Camagüey when these iron structures were included as elements of the construction boom arriving with the establishment of the Republic in the early 20th Century. Paired with Camagüey's urban development, in a time when new districts were built around the city's colonial section, grilles started to spread as a new cultural trend in local architecture which was already heavily influenced by the air of modernity then accompanying the eclectic style much like other urban centres in Cuba.
Parapets and lighted balustrades, moldings, columns against the wall and pediments were all design elements that started to distinguish areas such as offices, recreational societies and other buildings of the Caribbean island.
The foundries scattered around the city nourished with traditional and creole wisdom the new grilles that embellished Camagüey's urban historic sites. The latter was declared UNESCO's Human Heritage site.
The use of grilles as a sign of modernity in traditional buildings can be seen today in diff erent places of the urban area, like in the República, Cisneros and Avellaneda streets where many relevant economic, cultural and political centres had their venues. There are other examples with a greater aesthetic value at the Los Mártires and La Libertad avenues in the Vigía and La Caridad districts.
The addition of rivets in the composite stands out in Camagüey's ironwork. There are three types of designs to be found in the outdoor grilles. They can be simple, reiterative or very elaborate according to the use of figurative systems and façade decorations, as stated by Cuban specialist Bárbara Oliva.
It is from the city's balconies and windows that hang the grilles decorated with horizontal or vertical motifs and elements in the shape of fans, hearts and fl owers, amongst others. Other elements shaped like the letters S or C, create spiral or geometrical shapes prevalent in main entrance gates.
Specialists state that the most common grilles in Camagüey were those that fully covered windows and ended in thin iron bars like spear tips. The legacy of master blacksmiths is still alive today in the use of decorative grilles used in modern architecture. Those that have survived the destruction of time, are proof of the elegance of Camagüey's craftsmanship, a source of inspiration for modern creations.