La Dionisia and the history of coffee
BY YAHUMILA HIDALGO CERUTO, PHOTOS: DANY HERNÁNDEZ / XELVATIC IMÁGENES
The ruins of La Dionisia coffee plantation, in Matanzas, remain standing with the obstinacy of the old constructions that insist on being testimonies of the past. History and nature mix together in this place, a footprint of the migrations of French settlers to Cuba, the emergence of coffee farms that sprung up in different parts of the island and the use of slave labor to cultivate the valuable bean.
La Dionisia is found on the route to Varadero from the city of Matanzas, a few meters from the bridge over the Canímar river. The origin of the site, declared a National Monument, begins at the end of 1791, when the Haitian Revolution caused the fleeing of thousands of white settlers to Cuba and other regions. One of these settlers, the Frenchman Francisco Rubbier Durán, bought 130 hectares of land, intending to cultivate coffee, bananas and pineapple. In 1920, the site was constructed, including a beautiful house roofed with clay tiles, still standing today. The walls of the slave barracks still remain in the undergrowth in a symbiosis that makes them seem to have emerged naturally from the earth, although in reality these stones enclose the painful history of hundreds of slaves who lived there.
It is said that four rooms were dedicated to “forced mating”. The practice worked as follows: some black men were selected as studs, the best women from the slave holdings were taken to be mothers and forced to have relations. Other rooms were used for the slaves about to give birth to their children. In the adjoining rooms was the “criollitos” nursery, where they took the children who were cared for by some of the women while the others went to work. An experienced guide of the site, managed by Flora y Fauna Business Group, tells visitors of the lives of the inhabitants, in stories repeated down the generations by word of mouth.
There is the option to enjoy horseback riding in a natural environment and a meal prepared with local flavor, in addition to delving into some of the essences that have shaped the Cuban nation
These farms were conceived to be a whole system that would guarantee the production of coffee from beginning to end, with mechanisms to obtain water, roads, bean dryers, fruit trees and other food crops, in addition to the house and slave barracks. The waterwheel and well used to obtain water are still preserved in the Matanzas coffee plantation. Learning about the use of this hydraulic mechanism of yesteryear is an attraction, explaining the daily life of those days when it brought water to the coffee washing places.
In the restaurant, where the mixed smell of the palm-thatched roof, pineapple, guava, mango and traditionally- prepared coffee invites you to please your palate, dishes are prepared from traditional recipes, with the soft sounds of the countryside adding to the visitor enjoyment. Horse lovers can enjoy riding along the site trails, among trees.