Monday, October 12, 2015

Matanzas City: Celebrating 322 years of Foundation

Modern map of the Cuban archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. Part of the Province of Matanzas is boxed.

The tercentennial city of Matanzas, located in the bay of Matanzas, northwestern Cuba (and the center location of many of my posts), celebrates today 322 years since its foundation, 523 since the rediscovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.

I want to celebrate this event by blogging a bit about the history of the city in which I was born and raised; a place that I love. I hope my enthusiasm rubs off, for to know Matanzas is to love her.

Plan of the City of Matanzas from 1837 showing the main urban center at the birth of the bay.
This plan was certainly one of the most detailed of its time.

Old Matanzas is located between the San Juan and Yumuri rivers. The city was founded out of a whim of protection in the fall of 1693. The bay that harbors the city had been known to the Spanish colonists and conquistadors since at least 1508, and much before to several cultures of Amerindians who inhabited the area for over 3 millennia. The bay was known as Guanima, with a prominent town called Yucayo during the latest period of Amerindian habitation.

Matanzas's Cathedral built in front of the place were the original foundational church was built in 1693. The photo looks North.

On the morning of October 12 of 1693, governor Severino de Manzaneda, the bishop Diego Evelino de Compostela set out to delimit what was going to be the extent of the city. Matanzas's planning and delimitation resulted in creating one of the most ordered cities of its time.

Liberty Park on the main square, showing off the glory of the Statue of Liberty
and that of our national figure Jose Marti.

The area was not unknown, however, to officials and merchants in Havana, or others in the Caribbean, for the nearby lands have been settled, inhabited, and used as contraband outposts since the early 16th century.  The Crown's want of control on illicit trading there, constantly on the rise since then and with frequent roaming of pirates culminating in the attack of Piet Heyn in 1628 later, finally incited its official foundation, but more as a measure of protection. Manzaneda, Cordova, and several other surveyors of the Crown had been visiting the bay since 1684 to scout out the specific areas whereupon to build the fort of San Severino, and where to place the church. Both structures would bring, ideally, a sense of security and seriousness to the enterprise for the soon to be Matanceros; immigrants from the Canary Islands.

Plan of Jose Fernandez Sotolongo dating to 1764, depicting the embryonic city already 71 years founded. The red
polygons are the inhabited quarters. The gray is delimited, but unused areas.

The city of Matanzas was formerly known as "La Atenas de Cuba", or the Athens of Cuba, due to its social and cultural growth during the 19th century, which was consequently fostered by great sugar boom of that era. Today is just "La Ciudad Dormida", or the "City that Sleeps". In my version, it is the Athens that Sleeps because Matanzas still retains a large, but latent, cultural and historically-rich ambiance, that to this day, characterize its people.

View of the bay and part of the city of Versalles and Matanzas from La Loma del Estero, a small hill that sets
the amphitheater that encases de city to the bay.

The recent creation of a Conservation Office, under the leadership of the city's first conservator Leonel P. Orozco, alongside the aid of the Office of the City's Historian attests to the national interest in reviving the protection and restoration of locally important monuments, and fostering a healthy interest in the city's local past.

Detail of one of the towers of the iconic Concord bridge, also known as the Jose Lacret Morlot
bridge, built by Spanish architect Pedro Celestino del Pandal and finalized in 1878.

We wish you happy 322 years Matanzas!

Note: Since this post was written, now a year ago, a colleague and I created a blog dedicated to the history and culture of Matanzas, written in Spanish, but equally visually rewarding for those interested. Visit San Carlos de Matanzas today!