By: Liborio País
On June 4th, 1514, the city of Sancti Spiritus was founded on the banks of the Tuinicu River by the Spanish colonizer Diego Velasquez de Cuellar. Capital of the namesake province, Sancti Spiritus is proud to receive hundreds of thousands of tourists from different regions of the planet who visit it annually in order to admire its beautiful landscapes.
It is not really known how Diego Velasquez came up with the idea of giving the newly founded village such a name, although we may speculate it was some circumstance related to the chance of saving one’s life, or of finding a shelter providing refuge in the midst of what must have been an impenetrable forest back in the 16th century.
Sancti Spiritus City was moved in 1522 from the banks of Tuinicu River to the shores of the Yayabo, with whom it has formed an indissoluble link through the times. The locals have blatant pride in the bridge across the river, the only bridge in Cuba surviving the colonial period that has been kept in appropriate conditions and still active and considered as National Monument.
The work of engineering permitted the elongation of the city in opening the way to the neighboring Trinidad, some 67 kilometers away, where the famous Valley of the Sugar Refineries, considered as World Heritage by UNESCO, is located. From the highway joining Sancti Spiritus to Trinidad, the elevations of the Guamuhaya mountain range -better known as Escambray- can be seen. Its highest point, Topes de Collantes, displays natural parks and different attractions for the lovers of the flora and fauna.
Sancti Spiritus City preserves a historical center with 18th and 19th century buildings, among which the Mayor Parish, built in 1680, stands out. Sancti Spiritus takes pride in being first to build a majestic structure, the first two-floor building in Cuba, with more than a hundred doors and windows, in the second half of the 18th century.
This work is attributed to Francisco Iznaga’s descendants, a rich Basque landlord who, after acting as alderman in the village of Bayamo – in the eastern area of the country-, gave origin to a powerful noble lineage settling more to the center of the national geography, specifically in Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus.
La Casona (the Big House), at present the city colonial museum, underwent several renovations by the former owners members of the Valle-Iznaga family; thus, acquiring certain 19th century architectonic characteristics. Ceilings of thick precious-wood beams prevail, as well as French blinds, stained-glass windows, multi-colored “lucetas”, and beautiful patios that bear an influence on the stories around the house.
The Casona’s spacious halls display the atmosphere and taste of the 19th century Cuban upper bourgeoisie, exhibiting medallion-type furniture made from precious woods (cedar and mahogany), together with samples of decorative art from Sevres, Limonges, Sarregueminez, Maissen, Dresden, Capodimonte and Mintons, among other manufacturers. Also, works of the acclaimed Swiss engraver Leopold Luis Robert and sizeable Napoleon the Third console tables, laminated in gold, are on display, as stylized French lamps made of Baccarat glass.
Sancti Spiritus is an indispensable middle position in the trip between Havana and the eastern parts of the country. If you choose it as one of your destinations in Cuba, at least temporary, you could make best use of the superb accommodation conditions provided by the city downtown facilities such as the Plaza Inn and the Rijo Inn, two insignia hotels of the old time Cuban Spiritus Santus.