Camaguey is the name of both the largest province in Cuba and its capital city, named after the Indian chief of the old settlement which was established there previously. One of the original seven settlements founded by Diego de Velazquez, the city became prosperous through cattle and sugar, despite severe water shortages. To counteract this problem, the early settlers collected rainwater in large earthenware jars called tinajones which were unique to the city and which gave it its nickname ‘City of the Tinajones’. Even today these symbols of the city can be seen everywhere.
The narrow, somewhat haphazard streets – said by some to be deliberately designed that way in order to confuse pirates, who were regular visitors – give the city a real Spanish flavour and they are best explored on foot in order to fully appreciate the beautifully restored buildings and plazas. The oldest part of the city is the largest historic centre in the country, and has been declared a national monument.
Places to Visit
Plaza San Juan de Dios
This picturesque square, declared a national monument after its splendid restoration, consists of cobbled pavements surrounded by pink and yellow colonial buildings with cast-iron balustrades on the windows. Buildings surrounding the square include the beautiful baroque church of San Juan de Dios, and the striking Moorish style museum of the same name, where the body of Ignacio Agramonte was brought by the Spaniards after his death on the battlefield; they hid the corpse to prevent his followers paying their last respects and burnt it in the square to dissuade further rebellion.
Casa Natal de Ignacio Agramonte
This hero of the first war of independence against Spain is the city’s most revered citizen. As a sugar baron, his possessions were substantial and they now form part of the museum’s collection housed in his birthplace, a beautifully restored colonial house with heavy wooden doors, dark balustrades and large tinajones (earthenware jars typical of the town) on the patio.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy
This impressive baroque building was first established as a small convent in 1747 and it still functions as such today. The church was rebuilt twice and its most striking features include a magnificent Spanish altar, the Santo Sepulcro - an ornate silver coffin - and the crypt, a former underground cemetery where skeletal remains can still be made out in the half light.
Nicolas Guillen Birthplace
Situated in Calle Hermanos Aguero is the birthplace of Cuba’s poet laureate, Nicolas Guillen, who was sent into exile during the Machado regime for speaking out against social injustice, particularly against the black population After the revolution he was proclaimed Cuba’s ‘national poet’ and head of the Cuban writers’ union. He died in 1989.
Agramonte Provincial Museum
Former headquarters of the Spanish cavalry during the 19th century, this museum is dedicated to the history, natural history and art of the town and local province.
Places to Eat
La Campana de Toledo
Traditional Creole and seafood are served in this charming Colonial building where you can eat either inside or in the courtyard.