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Known as the ‘Pearl of the South’, Cienfuegos was first settled by the French in the early 19th century and their influence can still be felt today in the wide straight boulevards and gracious old buildings. The natural deep harbour led to prosperous trade and the city flourished; even today Cienfuegos remains an important economic hub as Cuba’s third largest port. The city is laid out grid-style, with a historic centre and broad seafront boulevard stretching towards Punta Gorda, one of the city’s most elegant districts with old French-style plantation houses.
Places to Visit
City cathedral The Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion was first established as a church in 1833 and after some additions was granted cathedral status at the beginning of the 20th century. It has an impressive interior with an imposing altar of the Virgin Mary and beautiful stained glass windows featuring the 12 Apostles.
Tomas Terry Theatre Founded in 1890 by a millionaire patron of the city, the external Spanish architecture gives way inside to a glorious ceiling fresco, intricate carvings and 950-seat auditorium carved from Cuban hardwoods. Enrico Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt performed here and the theatre still hosts performances by the National Ballet and Opera Companies of Cuba.
Parque Marti Many of Cienfuegos’ most famous buildings cluster round this lively central square, where prominent figures from the past are represented, including the square’s namesake Jose Marti in the heart of the central promenade. A great place to watch the world go by, the square also features an arch commemorating the constitution of the Cuban republic in 1902.
Palacio del Valle This striking building was originally built in 1917 for a Spanish trader which over the years underwent a series of adornments in the form of elaborate carvings, soaring arches, murals and Moorish-style mosaic floors. Nowadays it functions principally as a restaurant, but you can wander freely around and take the spiral staircase up to the rooftop bar to enjoy the view.
Places to Eat
Cafe Cienfuegos This is a modest restaurant but serves good creole and international food. Located in the Club Cienfuegos complex, it overlooks the ocean.
Palacio del Valle The cuisine served in this striking building features good quality seafood and the bar affords a stunning view of the bay. Live music.