Bayamo, cradle of Cuban nationality

Bayamo, cradle of Cuban nationality

Heritage & Traditions

By Ana María Silveira

The second town established in Cuba by the Spanish cqonquerors, San Salvador de Bayamo, is today a rich source of history, culture, and friendliness to visitors of eastern Cuba.

With its historic center declared a National Monument in 1978 and currently the capital of Granma province, the town was founded by Adelantado Diego Velázquez on November 5, 1513 initially, according to some sources, in the indigenous area of Yara, where the Chief Hatuey, led the first aboriginal resistance against the conquest in this territory.

Otherhistorians point out that its inaugural headquarters was somewhere closer to the coast, until, in search of better conditions, he moved to its current settlement. --- Around its name, there are also different versions, which attribute it to the name of a native head of the region —Bayam—, to a tree named in the same way and considered of wisdom, or to a homonymous river that bathed the area. 

Bayamo was the first capital of the Republic in Arms at the beginning of the war of independence on October 10, 1868 and in its streets the National Anthem was sung for the first time, on October 20, a date that has become National Culture Day. 

Faced with the imminent recapture of the city by Spanish forces in January 1869, its inhabitants burned it and went to the mountains, a heroic action that also had an influence on its later architecture, rebuilt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Among the places of interest in the city are the birthplace of the Father of the Nation, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the initiator of the independence struggle; the portico of the first open-air cemetery in the country, and the colonial window in front of which La Bayamesa was sung in a romantic serenade in 1851, considered the first truly Cuban song.

Dedicated to Luz Vázquez, then a beautiful young lady and later a mambisa fighter for independence, the piece is the work of Francisco Castillo, her boyfriend; Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and the poet José Fornaris. Many reasons point to Bayamo as the cradle of Cuban nationality, a city that for any visitor, even without any prior information, will be endearing.