First up on Saturday, our last full day in Cuba, was a meeting with Nancy Benitez, a local architect and historian, who provided us with an overview of the city’s history and development.
Trinidad is a magnificent little city. Studded with beautiful large mansions preserved from the 19th century, graceful smaller homes, a handsome large public square and wonderful beaches, it is truly a Cuban jewel.
This city of 90,000 was founded in 1514 by the Spanish, nearly a hundred years before the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Sugar production fueled the community’s growth from 1800-1840. In that period, beautiful homes, with large and handsome rooms and shaded courtyards were built in the center of the town. Financed by the profits from sugar, the buildings were designed with large doors and windows, protected by bars, to let air circulate and enhanced with attractive chairs, china, artwork and artifacts from Europe.
How did these homes and and mansions survive? It turns out, said Benitez, that the road we took to Trinidad from Cienfuegos was completed only in 1957. Trinidad was almost completely isolated, except by boat, until the road was finished. So this jewel from the 19th-century was preserved, almost intact, from modernization and from the sort of gambling-based modernization that transformed Havana under the Mafia.
In 1968, the Cuba government named Trinidad a national monument and turned the largest of these homes into museums for the public to visit. In 1988, UNESCO named Trinidad an international Heritage Site.