Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s Second City?

Santiago is Cuba’s second city, but refuses to take little brother syndrome in its rivalry with Havana.

Indeed Santiago claims that it is rightfully the capital of the ‘new’ post Revolution Cuba. After all it was here that the first skirmishes of revolution took place in 1956 on that fateful July day of the botched attack on Moncada Barracks.

Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

The Cuban Revolution

The Sierra Maestra Mountains where three years later the band of July 26th Movement brothers led by Fidel, Che and Camilo Cienfuegos made their base to plot revolution, grow their numbers and take the fight to Batista, overlook the city and the spot where the Granma boat landed that brought the revolutionaries from Mexico is also in Santiago Province.

The blood of heroes was spilled on its soil both in Moncada and at Granma’s landing station – of 82 revolutionaries that had left Mexico, only 8 survived to carry on the battle.

When Batista finally realised his regime had lost and fled to the Dominican Republic on 1st January ’59, Fidel and his comrades rode into Santiago to pronounce victory to delirious crowds.

His victory speech from the balcony of city hall lasted three hours – nobody in the packed main square moved during the address.

City Hall, Santiago de Cuba, Location of Castro's Victory Declaration

City Hall, Santiago de Cuba, Location of Castro’s Victory Declaration

Santa Ifigenia Cemetery

Furthermore, Jose Marti who is Cuba’s national hero for leading the 19th century campaign for the Caribbean nation’s successful fight against Spanish colonial rule is buried in Santiago despite being born in Havana. The remains of both great revolutionary leaders are buried at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery just outside the city.

With all of this political history it is no wonder that Santiago’s residents are an extremely proud bunch and consider themselves a tad superior to other cities.

The rivalry between the Havana Industriales and Santiago, the two most decorated protagonists in Cuba’s premier sport of baseball, is also testament to this.

Since the league was revamped in 1962 into a regional league, Santiago have won it eight times and the Industriales twelve in its 56 year history (Granma Province won the title for the first time ever in 2017 during our January visit in a surprise the equivalent of Leicester City’s English Premier League triumph).

The arts in Santiago de Cuba

Santiago wears its pride and joie de vivre on its sleeve through being a city of music, art & architecture.

Santiago de Cuba Artist

Santiago de Cuba Artist

Musical instruments for sale, Santiago de Cuba

Musical instruments for sale, Santiago de Cuba

At its heart stands the main square of Melia Santiago de Cuba, home to the cathedral, city hall and iconic Hotel Casa Grande, amongst others. It is an architectural delight, well worthy of its UNESCO status.

Santiago de Cuba Cathedral

Santiago de Cuba Cathedral

Hotel Casa Grande, Santiago de Cuba

Hotel Casa Grande, Santiago de Cuba

Interior of Santiago de Cuba Cathedral

Interior of Santiago de Cuba Cathedral

Music is in the city’s veins. On our arrival evening a free orchestral concert was performed in the shadow of the cathedral. This was followed by a visit to the casa de musica where we witnessed son for the first time.

Son is the fusion of New Orleans style jazz and African tribal music that is synonymous with Cuba. We were treated to a couple in their eighties sashaying to the rhythm followed by more energetic couples sixty years their junior strutting their impressive stuff.

I will write more about this in a music & dance post soon, which will also include the terrific entertainment on show at Santiago’s Carnival Museum.

Carnival Museum exhibit, Santiago de Cuba

Carnival Museum exhibit, Santiago de Cuba

Dancers at the Santiago de Cuba Carnival Museum

Dancers at the Santiago de Cuba Carnival Museum

The museum is a smaller version of the superb one in New Orleans, well worth a visit, especially if you haven’t been to N’awlins or, no doubt, the one in Rio that I have not been to.

There is music everywhere in bars, restaurants and street corners. Just remember to swing those hips like the locals do!

Bronze statue of a son musician, Santiago de Cuba

Bronze statue of a son musician, Santiago de Cuba

Bacardi, Santiago de Cuba’s most famous export

The Bacardi museum housed in Emilio Bacardi’s former palatial home and featuring many of the possessions he collected from around the world, as well as the Museum de Ron (rum not Reagan) are well worth a visit.

The Bacardi Museum, Santiago de Cuba

The Bacardi Museum, Santiago de Cuba

Whilst on the subject Bacardi and rum, the famous drinks empire was born in Santiago, with the famous bat logo chosen to represent the bats that resided in the first distillery premises.

Bacardi was nationalised after Fidel swept to power and the rum magnate and his family fled first to the Bahamas and then onto Bermuda where the empire still resides today.

The Bacardi recipe was also kept in Cuba with the local tipple known as Ron de Santiago. Locals claim this rum as the best in the world, with Havana Club of course claiming the same.

Santiago de Cuba’s Casa Grande Hotel Roof Bar

On our final evening in Santiago we took to the roof bar of the Casa Grande, paying €3 for the privilege which included a drink.

The panorama was spectacular, first giving a view of the whole city, the mountains and the sea, then later a fine sunset.

Santiago de Cuba Cathedral at night

Santiago de Cuba Cathedral at night

The Caribbean, Santiago de Cuba

The Caribbean, Santiago de Cuba

City Hall viewed from the Casa Grande Hotel, Santiago de Cuba

City Hall viewed from the Casa Grande Hotel, Santiago de Cuba

We had a fabulous time in Santiago-by-sea. Say it quietly, but I preferred Havana. There again, the capital city is hard to surpass anywhere in the world in my opinion.

The Malecon, Havana, Cuba

The Malecon, Havana, Cuba

 

27 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing Santiago! This is the first post about Cuba for #FarawayFiles. So much history and culture and energy. I would love to hear the music and see the dancers. Cheers from Copenhagen!

    1. The energy definitely catches you!

  2. Wow, the sunset looks amazing! I’m keen to go to Cuba too but the question is when. I might have to go on a 20-hour flight to get there 🙂 #Citytripping

    1. Ouch, that’s a long flight. Worth it though.

  3. Thanks for the insight Wilbur. I knew nothing about Cuba’s Santiago. Fascinating to learn about its history and see your beautiful photos. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  4. I’d love to visit Cuba. Thanks for sharing all about Santiago! 🙂 #citytripping

    1. Thoroughly recommended!

  5. I’m really enjoying these string of Cuban posts – it must have been such a fantastic trip, right up my street. #citytripping

  6. Beautiful! That cathedral is stunning! I love how you captured pictures of the locals dancing, painting and playing music! #CityTripping

    1. People are places special I think.

  7. Love the dance picture!
    But then I was much interested in this piece oh history , with its extraordinary details and pictures ….!

  8. A three hour speech would certainly test my patience. Love the dance picture!

    1. Didnt quite make the Singing Detective famous dialogue if you know the one I mean….

      1. You’ve got me there. I remember the series but not in detail!

      2. MARLOW
        Think of something boring, for Christ’s sake. Think of something very, very boring. A speech… A speech by Ted Heath. A sentence, a long sentence, from Bernard Levin. A quiz by Christopher Booker. Oh! No, no. Think. Think. Think. Really boring. A Welsh male-voice choir. Everything in ”Punch”…

        Oh! Wage rates in Peru. James Burke. ”Finnegan’s Wake”. All the bloody Irish. The dog in ”Blue Peter”. Brian Clough and especially James – Henry and Clive. Australian barmen, ecologists, semiologists… Think! Think! The Guardian woman’s page… Oh, dear Christ! The Bible… Oh, God… Reader’s Digest Special Draw. No, no, no… Think Bible… Bible Psalms. Song of Solomon.

      3. Got it now!

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