Tag Archives: Santiago de Cuba

J = Journeys through the Land of the Dead

J

Cemeteries can be interesting places to find some fascinating artwork as well as quiet places to walk in otherwise busy cities. Here are some of my favourite ones.

Père Lachaise Cemetery is Paris is well-known and has some very interesting statuary and “residents”.

La Recoleta Cemetery is the large cemetery in Buenos Aries with many famous Argentinians buried there, including Eva Perón.

I stumbled upon a massive cemetery in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I thought it had interesting art, then I came to the edge of the cemetery and saw there was so much more. This is the largest cemetery I’ve every seen.

My last suggestion is the cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Not only does it have a memorial to Jose Marti with a changing of the guard and other famous memorials.

 

 

W is for Walled fortresses

WBoth Havana and Santiago de Cuba have fortresses originally built to protect Spanish interests from raiders and pirates. While each as a longer name, both are usually known by the shorter name of Morro Fortress. The one in Havana is older, built in 1589 while the one in Santiago de Cuba was built in 1637. The styles are very different, as you can see from the photos.

Havana’s Morro Fortress

Havana Fortress

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Santiago’s Morro Fortress

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S is for Santiago de Cuba

SThe energy in Santiago de Cuba is very different from Havana and is considered the most Caribbean-influenced city in Cuba. Whereas Havana has large, open plazas and broad avenues, I found Santiago more chaotic, with smaller plazas and narrow streets. In some ways, I felt safer in Havana as I wandered along its streets because there seemed to be more people – and they all wanted to ask you something! In some ways, Santiago seemed almost claustrophobic with so many people and different modes of transportation crowding its narrow streets. It was very exhilarating!

The port is near town but is can be a bit of a walk up the hills that are part of this city, so for some people, it will be easier to take a taxi to get around and see the sights.  That said, if you are good with crowded streets, it is very walk-able and has different types of colonial architecture.  The buildings are very different from the grand structures in Havana. They are more colourful and unique to this portion of the island.

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Known as the City of Heroes, Santiago celebrates its contributions to Cuban revolutions with many monuments and a large Revolutionary Square. In the cemetery, there are a number of special sections devoted to different groups of revolutionary fighters — including a section to those who died fighting apartheid in South Africa.

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The Morro Fortress provides a guards the entrance to the bay leading to Santiago. It was built to protect the city from pirates. now, it provides a great vantage point to see the entire city.

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R is for Revolutionary Heroes

RBefore I begin this, none of this is meant as a political statement, but as a way to show how Cuban revolutionaries are commemorated. In a prior post, I talked about John Lennon and shared a print that I bought linking him to other revolutionary people. In every country, you will find monuments to that country’s heroes. In Havana, there is the Avenue of Presidents that honours leaders from many parts of the world. Cuba has a long history of revolution and you will find signs of these everywhere, including monuments, statues, signs and large plazas.

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Probably, the most honoured is the revolutionary poet, Jose Marti (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895). He worked in many ways: a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist. Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba’s bid for independence against Spain in the 19th century. He honoured all over Cuba through statues, and monuments. He fought against Spanish occupation and influence of other countries in Cuba. He dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, political independence for Cuba and intellectual independence for all Spanish Americans. His murder became a cry for Cuban independence from Spain by both the Cuban revolutionaries and those Cubans previously reluctant to start a revolt.

The tomb of Jose Marti in Santiago has a changing of the guard ceremony at his tomb daily. It is designed in such a way to honour his wishes from a poem a wrote:

Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun

The sun shines through the stained-glass dome of the tomb directly onto his casket which is draped with a Cuban flag and fresh, white roses placed on the coffin daily.

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Revolution Square in Havana is a large, open area framed by three large memorials.  The highlight is the large statue of Jose Marti in front of the tallest monument in Havana. Across from the monument and statue are the iconic figures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on government buildings.

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Jose Marti

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Fidel

In Vieja Havana, there is the Museum of the Revolution, you can learn more about Cuba’s struggles.

Fidel's tank

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The tomb of Che Guevara is in Santa Maria – a place I did not get to on my 2015 trip to Cuba but hope to on future trips. There is, however, a memorial statue in Santiago for him and the fighters killed with him in Bolivia.

Che Memorial

It is near the large Revolutionary Square in Santiago that has a statue for Antonio Maceo.

Santiago Revoution Square

G is for Guards

G In my travels, I have taken the opportunity to see many different Changing of the Guards Ceremonies. Some occur once a day, such as at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Palace in Stockholm or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens, Greece. I love comparing the pomp of each ceremony — some things are the same but some are unique to each country.The one at the tomb of Jose Marti in Santiago de Cuba occurs every thirty minutes from 6 AM to 6 PM. Here are some pictures from this ceremony.

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Sailing into Santiago de Cuba

Sailing into Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba, was breathtaking. Santiago rests in the heart of a picturesque bay protected by the Morro Fortress. The ship docks at the foot of the city, which rises up before you with colourful buildings.  This is a city filled with energy and life – traffic and people. Called the City of Heroes, Santiago remembers its sons and revolutionaries. This is where the revolution began.

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Before revolution, pirates attacked the city until the Spanish built the Morro Fortress. It was the first capitol of Cuba, until it moved to Havana. It is the home of Cuban music, dancing and produces the best rum. Its streets are chaotic and people can be “very friendly.” Welcome to Santiago!

Before we could enter Santiago, we had to go through an immigration checkpoint and get our temperatures taken (again). The difference this time is that we had to turn in our immigration forms and get a temporary pass because we would be leaving Cuba when we sailed away from this port. Sounds a bit confusing, but just follow the instructions.

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My first stop was at the Morro Fortress.  This impressive fort provides amazing views of the harbour and the city of Santiago. Inside the fort is a complete history of its construction and lists of various pirates who made life in early Santiago challenging. Most of the information is Spanish, but you will recognize a few names, including Henry Morgan. Walking around the fort can be a bit tricky – the cobblestones can be slippery and it can be very windy. However, the views are worth it. Note that to take pictures in the fort; you will have to pay $5 CUC.

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There is also a nice restaurant next to the fort – and it is always time for a mojito! There are also a number of private craft vendors along the road to the fort.  I bargained for a hat and there were lots of woodcarvings and other items for sale.

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Santiago has a number of beautifully restored colonial houses, many of which are now schools.

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It also has monuments to many heroes. One of which is a monument to Che Guevara and the men who were killed with him in Bolivia.

Che Memorial

The largest monument to a Cuban hero is in the cemetery – the tomb of Jose Marti. Every thirty minutes, there is the changing of the guard ceremony. The tomb is impressive – and setup in such a way to honour his wishes, as expressed in this poem:

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door:
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor.
I am good and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun.

This is a monument to him – a tower that is open at the side and the top is stained glass that reflects the sun that shines on the wooden casket draped with a Cuban flag. Every morning, they place white roses at the casket. It is a beautiful memorial.

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The cemetery has a number of other notables, including the Bacardi Family, several sections for revolutionary fighters, and a section for Cubans who aided in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Like the fort, you will have to pay to take photos — $5 CUC seems to be the going rate.

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The main plaza in Santiago is similar to other plazas throughout Cuba. At the heart is the main church, and the open area is surrounded by other colonial buildings.  This one had building from different eras in Santiago’s history, including one that is the oldest building in Santiago.

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Overall, Santiago is a beautiful city, but it can be chaotic for a first-time visitor. Streets are crowded and there are few, if any pedestrian-only areas. In the main plaza area, I found some of the people more aggressive in requesting things from you. No one asked me for money, but it was more for items such as soap or cosmetics. Even saying no, did not deter them from continuing to ask me to things. This did not happen to me in Havana, so it was surprising.

I only mentioned the highlights of some of the things I did in Santiago – there are many more!