Sancti Spíritus: Half a Millenium of a Historic Town
By: Raúl I. García Álvarez , Photos: Garal
Citizens of Sancti Spíritus are proud of their city, where public squares, places of recreation and churches frame the narrow cobbled streets. The historical center has been renovated, an outstanding colonial setting including the Church, Principal Theater, Bridge on the River Yayabo (the only one of his type in the country) and the ‘House of a Hundred Doors’, shining with splendour.
The cathedral was instituted in 1680, the bridge in 1825 and the theater, copy of the Havana´s famous Grand National Theatre Habana, opened its doors on July 15, 1839.
The park that bears the name of Major General Serafín Sánchez Valdivia, personal friend of José Martí, apostle of was restored with its central square as it was in the 18th century. In this sociocultural space surrounded with beautiful colonial structures, one can still see traces of the Chapel of the Veracruz (XVII) and the San Francisco Convent (XVIII) .
“We have the obligation to recover and maintain each of these architectural relics in order to recapture the colonial essence that distinguishes this city,” Roberto Vitlloch, from the Provincial Commission of Monuments said to Cubaplus.He underlined that the town recaptures its elegance with more than two thousand buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.The most outstanding touch to shape the essential part of the historical zone is the stone pavement of the route on the Yayabo Bridge, as well as Park Honorato, opposite the Church.
For the engineer, the most important task is that Sancti Spíritus obtain, as did Trindad , its twin city, Unesco´s Cultural Heritage award .
The Town’s First Establishment
For several decades archaeologists strived to locate the first establishment, the exact place in which the foreseeing Diego Velázquez affirmed that Sancti Spíritus would be erected. Bartolomé de las Casas wrote that Velázquez wanted the foundation of the ‘city between two seas’.
Other leads that guided the investigations were notes from the chronicler Tadeo Martínez Moles in the 18th century and relics contributed by, among others, the historian Javier Sanso and architect Félix Bismarck at the end of the 20th century.
Oral traditions led these eager researchers to the Old City (El Pueblo Viejo), and ended with excavations, bringing them to the conclusion that that was the original site of Sancti Spíritus.
Orlando Álvarez de la Paz, specialist in the archaeology of heritage, affirms that from this zone evidence was compiled confirming that the Spanish and the Natives co-habitated in the 16th century. The site is located near the stream ‘Puente de Palo’, flowing from the Yayabo River, about 7 kilometers east of the actual city of Sancti Spíritus.
Cuba’s Fourth City
For 93-year old Berena Álvarez, the celebration of Sancti Spíritus half millenium a dream come true for present generations and a tribute to those who gave the city its splendour. What she learned in school stands out in her mind: Sancti Spíritus, the fourth town founded by Diego Velázquez in 1514.
She, as well as the majority of Sancti Spíritu citizens wonder: Why now has Camagüey preceded us? To answer this, which in no way demerits the celebration of its 500 years, we come to the historian Rolando Rodríguez, winner of the National Award of Social Sciences 2007.
As Rodríguez recounts, at the History Academy it was concluded that there was a one-year discrepancy with regard to the timing of the celebration held by Camagüey for its 500 years, i.e., this town was founded in 1515 and not in 1514. He added that this date was also confirmed by Dr. Hortensia Pichardo, an expert in this area.
Meanwhile, the History of Cuba 1492-1898, work by doctors Eduardo Torres Cuevas and Oscar Loyola Vega, gathers the order of the foundation of the cities: Baracoa (1511), Bayamo 1513, Sancti Spíritus and Havana (between April and May, 1514), Camagüey (between June and July, 1515) and Santiago de Cuba (at the end of August, 1515).
All of these experts and Cuba’s History Academy agree that Sancti Spíritus, is in fact the fourth Cuban town.