Sancti Spíritus

Sancti Spíritus, the provincial capital, is one of Cuba's seven original Spanish towns and has a wealth of buildings from the colonial period, although many of them have been altered and there has been lots of new building. Tourism is now being developed around the town. Hotels have been renovated and remodelled and coach parties come for day trips. So far foreign tourists get little unwanted attention. The local people are friendly and helpful when approached, but are generally indifferent to foreigners.

Ins and outs

Getting there

There are no scheduled
flights
to the airport north of town. Main line
trains
from Havana to Santiago stop at the train station 15 km away at Guayos, but you will be met by
taxis
, both state-owned and private. About 70 km northeast of Trinidad and 80 km southeast of Santa Clara, the town can be reached by road from Cienfuegos, Santa Clara or Trinidad. Long-distance
buses
come to Sancti Spíritus from both ends of the island, but the bus station is 2 km from the centre, so if you are not up to walking with your luggage you will have to get a taxi.

Getting around

The old city can be toured on foot
without much difficulty. For excursions by
car
ask at a
casa particular
for a private driver, or find one outside the bus station and negotiate a price. Trinidad can be visited as a day trip by bus or car, but it is better to stay in Trinidad and visit Sancti Spíritus as a day trip.

Tourist information

There is no tourist office in Sancti Spíritus, but the office of Havanatur
on the square can provide information.

History

The town was founded by Diego Velázquez in 1514. Originally situated on the Río Tuinicúe, it was moved to its present location on the Río Yayabo in 1522 and was sacked by pirates in 1665. The town grew as sugar and livestock became important and its geographical position made it an excellent agricultural market town. In the San Luis valley, or Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), between Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus, are many ruined sugar mills, plantation houses and slave quarters, including Manaca Iznaga . There are many sites commemorating those who fought in the 19th-century wars of independence, the local hero being Major General Serafín Sánchez Valdivia. At the end of the Cuban Revolution in 1958, rebel forces were led into the city under the command of Armando Acosta Cordero and Sancti Spíritus was liberated on 23 December. Fidel Castro arrived on 6 January 1959 and spoke from the balcony of the library. With the administrative changes in 1976, Sancti Spíritus became the capital of the new province of Sancti Spíritus.

Sights

Parque Serafín Sánchez
is the centre of activity in the city where all major roads converge. Around the square are the cinema, library, banks, Havanatur/ Havanautos and the beautiful baby blue
Hostal del Rijo
, renovated to its colonial splendour. The
Museo Provincial de Sancti Spíritus
, has the usual exhibits on local history and culture in a building that dates from 1740. There are collections of Amerindian artefacts, items from the colonization and African slavery, the wars of independence and the Revolution plus coins and decorative arts.

Just north of the square El Lyceo/Sociedad Cultural de Negros, Calle Luz Caballero, was the first school for blacks, opened in 1859. It is now a society for veterans of the Revolution.

The Galería de Arte Universal Oscar Fernández Morera is in the house of the local artist Oscar Fernández Morera on Céspedes 126 Sur, whose works are on permanent display. There are exhibits of originals as well as reproductions.

On Plaza Honorato, south of Parque Serafín Sánchez, the Iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espíritu Santo. The present Romanesque and baroque building made of stone, replaced the earlier one, but it is acknowledged as the second oldest church in Cuba because it still stands on its original foundations. It was finished in 1680, having taken 60 years to build. The church has been declared a National Monument. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas gave a famous sermon here, marking the start of his campaign to help the indigenous people. He was a Dominican missionary and polemist, who devoted his life to the cause of Amerindian liberty. He spent many years on Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti), where he wrote the Brief Relation of the Destruction of the Indies, a horrifying catalogue of atrocities that took place at the time. He was appointed Protector of the Indians in 1516 and spent the next 10 years trying to prove that free Amerindians could be converted to Christianity without use of force or enslavement. However, the experiment came too late for the Amerindians of the Greater Antilles, as the Spanish could not do without slave labour and the Amerindians would not work without coercion.

The Museo de Arte Colonial, is housed in the former palace of the Iznaga family, who made their fortune out of sugar and were hugely influential with links to the military and bureaucracy of the province. Built in 1744, the house has 100 doors. It contains collections of porcelain from France, England, Germany and Spain, oil paintings and decorative fans, and in the music room there is one of the oldest pianos in Cuba.

East of the church, a shopping mall has been established in the newly renovated 1926 building, Colonia Español, on Independencia Sur esquina Agramonte. It is a fine building in the eclectic style with neoclassical ceilings and CE on the windows, once a cultural centre for the high society.

The Puente Yayabo is considered a particular feature of Sancti Spíritus and is the only one of its type left on the island. The bridge was built in 1831 with five arches made of limestone, sand and bricks, which, according to legend was mixed with donkey milk. It is now also a National Monument. The river itself has given its name to the guayaba, or guava, which grows along its banks, and also to the guayabera, a loose man's shirt without a tail, worn outside the trousers and without a tie.

The former Teatro Principal next to the bridge was built in 1839 and was the scene of all the major cultural, social and political events of the city. Calle Llano is a twisty street, with cobblestones right to the edge of the Yayabo River.

Walk up Céspedes and you will pass the Casa Natal de Serafín Sánchez Valdivia. Sánchez Valdivia was born here on 2 July 1846, going on to fight in three wars in the 19th century. He collaborated with José Martí and reached the rank of Major General before being killed in battle in 1896. Parque Antonio Maceo, on which stands the Iglesia de la Caridad, was the place where the Communist Party of Sancti Spíritus was founded on 7 December 1930. If you head east along Frank País out of the historic centre, you will come to the old prison, Real Cárcel. The building has been preserved as a site of historical interest. It was built in the mid-19th century and used initially to incarcerate runaway slaves and then to imprison hundreds of Cubans who fought for independence.

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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