A Bird's Eye View of Camagüey
By Ciro Bianchi Ross / Photos: PUBLICITUR S.A.
In his famed “Elegía camagüeyana” poem Nicolas Guillén called this city, 700 km east of the capital, a “soft land of shepherds and sombreros.” And indeed, when seen from the fifth floor of the Gran Hotel, which was for many years the tallest building in the city, the rambling vista of Camagüey's ancient church bell towers and red tiled roofs that slope in a single direction color the sober architecture, presenting more tranquil and smooth than other colonial cities.
Camagüey does not surrender its flavor of yesterday despite urban growth; while tall buildings multiply the city maintains its signature one tower temples, ubiquitous huge earthenware jars and homes with interior portals and fine-detailed ironwork windows that peek into soothing and shadowed patios.
The historic area is a labyrinth; no street runs in a straight line for any distance but forks, turns, forms perfect triangles or encloses an unexpected plaza, like Bedoya, in a whimsical geometry.
The plaza of San Juan de Dios (1728) is a perfect example of an earlier period's urban complex containing: the glass and marble Principal Theater dating back to 1850, the 18th century Soledad church, the Cathedral and the Church of Mercy with its Holy Sepulcher made of 23,000 donated silver coins, the largest silverwork in Cuba. Facing the church is the birthplace of Ignacio Agramonte, “the Bayard of the Cuban Revolution” who died in combat in 1873.
A plaza bearing his name is an extraordinary gathering place in Camagüey nights. The patio of the Casa de la Trova (1874) also attracts traditional music performances. Republica Street, open only to pedestrians, is a beehive of people at all times. It continues to be the most typical commercial district and its sidewalks and building areas are peopled by individually licensed workers who offer the most unexpected wares.
Because Camagüey is more than its yesteryear, visitors observe the flow of life today from its new international airport. On both sides of the airport road are new buildings of schools and research centers. Its universities now graduate more professionals in Cuba than before 1958. Tourism has been advanced with the opening of hotels, restaurants and roadside motels.
The beach of Santa Lucía, 96 kilometers from the city, has a hotel infrastructure from which to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches on the Island, with its fine sand and impressive large coral reef. From there the visitor can arrange safaris to Sabinal Key and Maternillo Point's virginal nature.
The hospital brick by brick built by the tireless Father Valencia, who devoted his life to works of charity in the 19th century, is remodeled and now houses the José White School of Music where dozens of young people also study fine arts and ballet. This is the source from which the world-renowned ballet corps of Camagüey is formed.
This is only a glimpse of Camagüey to tempt you to a city that tries to link the useful with the beautiful in a renovated colonial urban landscape.