CubaPLUS Magazine

Slave Route Museum in Matanzas

By: Amanda Bedia
Feb 15, 2024
Slave Route Museum in Matanzas

It is the old San Severino Castle, an old colonial guardian fortress in the western city of Matanzas, renamed a few years ago Museum of the Route of the slave, with a high national significance and perhaps also in the entire Antillean area, where plantation economies grew at the expense of the slave labor of thousands of Africans.

Slave Route Museum in MatanzasThat military strength, in years in which that sad reality, current in its times of origin no longer exists, it is not only an architectural value, it is a reminder of a past that should not return, at the suggestion of UNESCO, which in Cuba has found receptive ears because culture and national life owe a lot to the blood and work of many children of mother Africa.

San Severino is a kind of unenchanted castle, built at the end of the 17th century, where valuable secrets from the past are still kept, condensed in its stones. And at the same time, since 2009 it has been the headquarters of the National Museum of the Slave Route, an institution that denounces the disgrace of slavery and human trafficking. There are multiple elements, then, that come together to enhance that site that celebrates his life with the birthdays of the maritime City of Bridges, also called Athens of Cuba, a city west of Havana, rich in history and owner of a vibrant present.

The Castle, which began to be built shortly after the baptism of Matanzas on October 12, 1693, it first had the name of San Carlos de Manzaneda. Then it took the nickname of Severino, the main patronymic of the Captain General of Matanzas at that time. In 1697, construction had to stop due to lack of funds and working manpower.

They were undertaken again in 1731, under the command of Engineer Antonio Arredondo. In 1746, the completion of the exteriors in the terrestrial sector and other important collateral areas were finished. A disastrous time befell him with the taking of Havana by the English in 1762, when coincidentally it suffered notable structural damage from a blast.

Slave Route Museum in MatanzasThe fort was abandoned for a decade and its reconstruction began in 1772. Finally, only in 1789 San Severino was declared fit to fulfill its functions as military guardian of the city, the bay and port of Matanzas. From 1774 to 1793 it functioned as a customs office and between 1818 and 1850, the Command of the City's defensive system, which had other  fortified important positions.

It became a military prison after 1821 and people were held in its prisons. Those involved in the independence conspiracy Soles y Rayos de Bolívar (1823) and those of the Stair Trial (1844). Its imbrication with history does not stop, because during the War Necessary began in 1895, Matanzas patriots suffered imprisonment in the fortress.

Between 1902 and 1958, the fort served as a prison for the revolutionaries who fought for freedom and against dictatorships of the day. A more rooted and at the same time universal meaning gives it its current link with the program promoted by UNESCO, the Slave Route, which denounces and warns about the horrors of the disastrous slavery of the children of Africa and of humans in general, rescuing that memory. The National Museum of the Slave Route in Cuba thus integrates a network that in the Caribbean became strong from a call launched by Haiti.

With four rooms of exhibitions, objects testify about punishments and torture are displayed from the colonial past to slaves, the enclosure entitled Orishas, recreator of the magical and deep religious feeling that came to us from Africa, from the minds and hearts of their children, today also part of our genes.

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