Corazon de Cuba
Atenas de Cuba People-to-People Program
|Dispatch 3 - Cienfuego
built on an inland harbor connected to the Caribbean by a long channel. The outer shore
alternates between rocky promontories and white sand beaches. Off shore from the beaches
you can snorkel and swim out to reefs for a variety of tropical fish viewing
opportunities. A fort to protect the city from pirates guards the channel to Cienfuego. It
has long since been decommissioned as a fort, and like so many 16th, and 17th century
forts I have visited, this one did a stint as a prison and is now a museum.
Also on the outskirts of Cienfuego is Cuba's only nuclear power plant -- standing half completed and with no significant progress having been made since the Soviet Union collapsed and funding disappeared in 1990.) In the city's industrial area is the world's largest sugar handling facility.The town center of Cienfuego has a distinctly different feel to it. According to a local guide we had this is because it is different. Unlike most of Cuba, whose historic influence was Spanish, Ceinfuego was a French enclave. Cienfuegos, founded in 1819, had been modeled on the French city of Bordeaux by a group of determined, multi-national colonists, mostly French. It was built around a spacious, beautifully-designed central plaza, 200 meters on each side. Auto traffic was now banned from the entire central area, making it peaceful and beautiful. People used the streets and the central plaza; children played, couples walked, bicycles passed, seniors sat and talked. It was a wonderful urban space, as the planners like to say.
While Cuban government is largely centralized in Havana, local municipalities have had the ability to make some of it own decisions. One of Ceinfuego's decisions was to preserve and maintain the city center, before this was popular in the central government. On the side streets there are many potholes and the sidewalks need repair.
One of the palatial houses on the square is now the Cultural Center. Students come here after school for dance, music and fine arts. At the age of eight, children who demonstrate musical talents may enroll in classes. The more agile are allowed to try out for dance classes. The most talented will be sent on to special schools, where they can study an instrument or dance through their high school years and into college. The Cultural Center, though it is a bit worn, when it is full of students practicing their routines it is full of life.
Also on the square are the theater and Cathedral. On Christmas Eve the music from the speakers at the Cathedral filled the square with songs like Silent Night. On other nights "Son" bands serenade the strollers.
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