Bridges, culture and traditions in one name: Matanzas
By Kachita Chaviano, Photos: José (Tito) Meriño
Over three centuries since its foundation, the city of Matanzas, known as the “Athens of Cuba”, still shows off its original beauty, thanks to the locals efforts to maintain the streets, culture and traditions.
There is no more beautiful landscape than that seen on arriving into town from the Cuban capital by road, through the Vía Blanca (White Way). Just one kilometer before crossing the entrance to the city, you can see the Matanzas Bay in all its magnitude with most of the buildings and bridges, just like a postcard.
A few minutes later, you can see the buildings, and just a few hundred meters away is the majestic Sauto Theater, a symbol of this wonderful city, an architectural jewel of the country and one of the oldest, considered a National Monument.
It should be noted that the name “Athens of Cuba” dates back to 1860, when the director of the city’s Lyceum, Rafael del Villar, proclaimed it as such because of its cultural splendor, similar to that of the Greek city of the same name. It is still the case. It’s the birthplace of poet José Jacinto Milanés, who wrote the first verse that consecrates Cuban poetry in general, two national poets: Bonifacio Byrne and Agustín Acosta, and the recently deceased Carilda Oliver Labra, one of the most important contemporary Cuban poets, among many other artists.
Very close to the theater is La Plaza de la Vigía, where the former town of San Carlos y San Severino de Matanzas was founded on October 12, 1693. This was the first Plaza de Armas that the city had, with important buildings close by, such as the Junco Palace, today a museum, the fire station and the monument to the Unknown Soldier, ʻSoldado Libertadorʼ.
In the center is the Parque de la Libertad, full of great history due to the emblematic buildings around it, including the José White Concert Hall, where the chords of the danzón, the national dance, were heard for the first time. Therefore, Matanzas is considered the cradle of that rhythm, declared Cultural Heritage of the Nation.
Facing the park is the Pharmaceutical Museum, a National Monument, where you can appreciate the characteristics of the old French apothecary of the 19th century with collections of the instruments used at that time, the only one of its kind in the world today.
Along Medio Street is one of the classic walks since there are numerous shops and businesses, and you can see the original cobblestones in some parts of this road.
The bridges of Matanzas require special mention since the city is situated between rivers, hence the need to build these structures, about 30 in total. One of the most striking is the Concordia Bridge, whose construction dates back to 1878, over the Yumurí River and connecting the neighborhoods of Versalles and Matanzas.
We cannot finish this article without mentioning the Bellamar Caves, which include 23 kilometers of tunnels and 780 hectares, with countless beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of whimsical shapes. Finally, Varadero, although not in the provincial capital itself, is practically a hop away, as only 30 kilometers separate the “Athens of Cuba” from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, whose crystal clear waters and fine sand are waiting for you to enjoy a rewarding summer day.