San Juan de Remedios

The colonial town of San Juan de Remedios is 43 km northeast of Santa Clara. Remedios was the eighth
villa
founded by the Spaniards, around 1513-1515, by Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa and for 160 years it was the main settlement in the area. It was never given the status of one of the original
villas
because Porcallo de Figueroa refused to allow the construction of a city hall. Its location was changed a couple of times, however, in 1544 and 1578, and when pirate attacks and other commercial incentives encouraged some of the inhabitants to move inland to Santa Clara, it began to decline. Not long after the founding of Santa Clara, a fire in 1692 hastened this trend. The present town was built following the fire and there are many beautiful colonial buildings, particularly around the pleasant Plaza Martí, which has some Royal palms and a gazebo in the centre. Traffic is very light and moves at the pace of the many
bicitaxis
, which can be found for hire around the Plaza.

Sights

This is the only town in Cuba where there are two churches on the plaza.
Iglesia Buen Viaje
is in a poor state and leaking, so it is unused and awaiting funds for renovation. The
Iglesia Parroquia Mayor San Juan Bautista de Remedios
, was built in 1692 on the remains of a 1570 church, making it one of the oldest churches in Cuba. It was renovated in 1944-1953 by an American millionaire who traced his family roots to Santa Clara. He discovered that one of his ancestors had been a founding member of the town and therefore must have come from Remedios, where he found birth records in the church. He spent US$1 million renovating the roof and walls and altar, taking off a false ceiling and whitewash on the beams to reveal gloriously painted and carved beams. The altar is cedar and was covered in gold leaf, but it shone so much you
couldn't see the detail, so some of it is now painted over to give more definition and
contrast.
Buried in the church are Juan de Loyola (parish priest 1685-1775) and 17 of his relations.

Also on the square is the Museo de Música Alejandro García Caturla. García Caturla was born in 1906 and in the 1920s he studied both music and civil law at the university of Havana. He formed the jazz band Caribe with a group of students but he was strongly influenced by the Grupo Minorista which contributed to bringing the African influence into Cuban mainstream music. He met the writer Alejo Carpentier, and under his protection he went to Paris where he continued his cultural education by going to the Ballet Russes and the Folies Bergères. On his return to Cuba he created the Orquesta de Conciertos de Caibarién, which gave its first concert in 1932. His music then took a back seat and he concentrated on law, rising through the ranks of the local judiciary, but he was murdered in 1940, aged 34, shot by an unknown assassin allegedly for upsetting the local social order by working with the poor. The museum has copies of newspaper articles about his death, including one by Nicolás Guillén, the poet. There are also displays on other prominent local musicians and bands with lots of photo boards, and art exhibitions.

There is also an interesting Museo de Arte Popular Las Parrandas. Two sections of the town compete against each other in games and festivities in the week leading up to 24 December, with the winning district being the one to make most noise, although no one really wins. The event originated with the local priest telling children to wake everyone in the town for midnight mass by making as much noise as possible and it soon became a tradition. The mayor complained to Spain about the 'music from hell' and asked for it to be banned, but the parrandas continued and developed into what they are today. The two districts, named Carmen and San Salvador, prepare long in advance, building towers in secret, which have a different theme each year and are transported and erected at the corners of the plaza. There is music, based on the polka, which varies slightly between Carmen and San Salvador, fireworks and floats. However, in contrast to carnival elsewhere, the people on the floats do not dance, in fact they do not even move, they are there simply as a tableau. An informative guide will explain all about the parrandas in English or Spanish, starting with a model and map of the city showing how the festival boundaries have changed over the years from eight groups to two, Carmen and San Salvador. There are replicas of several towers constructed during the 20th century, photos, costumes, musical instruments and mascots.

Museo de Agroindustria Azucarero Marcelo Salado (Museo del Vapor)
. Many redundant sugar mills in the country are now being converted into museums and this is one of them, in the old Central Marcelo Salado. This interesting museum is dedicated to the history of the sugar industry in Cuba with an exhibition area made up of all the different installations of a sugar mill, its tools, machinery and boiling rooms. There are several working steam engines, a video room and you can even clamber up on to some of the machinery.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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