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El Corazon de Cuba
Educational Program

 
 

Cienfuego

 
  River, Cienfuego, CubaCienfuego is built on an inland harbor that is fed by a number of rivers. The bay is connected to the Caribbean by a narrow 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. Castillo Jagűay, built by the Spanish, overlooks the channel. Its purpose was to protect Cienfuego from attacks by pirates and Corsairs. It has long since been decommissioned as a fort, and like so many 16th, and 17th century forts, this one did a stint as a prison and is now a museum.  
     
  nuclear power plant, Cienfuego CubaOn the skyline of the outskirts of Cienfuego is the reactor containment building for 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. The power plant is said to use the same design and technology as Chernobyl, which might explain some reluctance to reengage the project.  
     
  On another side of the bay the Venezuelans have supplied Cuba with a large oil refinery -- to handle Venezuelan crude oil. In another story of fall from glory, as Venezuela's economy has imploded and the price of oil collapsed, the Venezuelan's are less able to supply the rare material for the refinery.  
  In the city's industrial area is the world's largest sugar handling facility.  
     
  26 July Victoria of the Ideas If we go we arrive. If we arrive we enter. If we enter, we triumph.The banner over the road as you approach the city says "26 July Victoria of the Ideas." This is a reference to July 26, 1953, when Fidel Castro lead and attack on the Moncada Barracks, in Santiago de Cuba. It is considered "the beginning of a movement that has changed the world forever."

The next sign reads, "If we go we arrive. If we arrive we enter. If we enter, we triumph."

 
     
  Urban organic vegetable farm, Cienfuego Cuba Roof top solar collectors, Cienfuego Cuba

In contrast to the capital intensive attempt at nuclear and the oil refinery there are a few low-tech solar collectors on houses. Like most Cuban cities, there are urban "agroecological" organic vegetable farms in the town. Nationally, these urban farms are now able to produce more than half of the vegetables consumed in the cities. Not only do they zero-out the industrial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used, but the carbon-footprint of this produces is also negligible.

 
     
 

Click to enlargeThe 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. In the 1990's, auto traffic was 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. At some point this policy was reversed to the detriment of the quality of ambience in the central plaza.

There is a car-free street leading off of the plaza, but it is so full of street furniture that it has a lot of unusable space and is very congested.

 
     
  Click to enlargeWhile 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.

 
     
 

Central Plaza: Statue of Jose Marti, Palacio Ferrer (Culture House), Thomas Terry Theatro, Church of Purisima Concepcion, City Hall, Union Hotel, Boulevard de Cienfuego. (the section is under construction).

 
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
  Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego Cuba Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego CubaPalacio de Valle, is an eclectic architectural jewel located in the Punta Gorda. It is reminiscent of Spanish-Moorish art, with influences of Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, Andalusian and Mudejar arts. A quick inventory of the styles of arches is one way to catalogue the diversity.  
     
  Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego Cuba Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego Cuba Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego Cuba Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego Cuba Palacio de Valle, Cienfuego Cuba  
     
  Cienfuego cemetery entrance, Cuba Cienfuego cemetery, CubaOn the outskirts of Cienfuego is the main cemetery. The entrance is an impressive classical portico. It doesn't exhibit the wealth that is in Colon, in Havana, but it has some of the same styles of family plots.

If you are out on the roads, in the morning, near the bigger cities, it is not usually to be passed by racing cyclists on morning training ride.

 
     
    Leaving Cienfuego, words like Wisconsin, Scotland and Virginia were used to describe the countryside and farmland. I don't recall any ranches in those areas being dotted with royal palms, but other than that the comparison might have some validity. The farms are lush, rolling and working. The livestock are cows, horses, pigs, chickens and small ruminants.  
     
  Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, CubaAt Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos expert botanists provided a guide tour through a portion on the collection’s endemic and exotic species, medicinal plants, ornamentals, tropical fruits, and edible spice and food plants. Among its most complete collections are orchids (400+), palms (230+), ficuses (65+) and bamboos (29). If this is your thing, there is a lot to be impressed with.

It is considered the third most important tropical plant collection in the world.

 
     
  Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba  
   
  Cienfuego Botanical Garden, CubaElephant foot, Cienfuego Botanical Garden, CubaThe botanical garden was founded in 1901 by sugar cane mogul Edwin F. Atkins and his wife, who funded Harvard University botanists to research improve sugar cane and establish the Atkins Fund for Tropical Research in Economic Botany, which in turn funded the "Harvard Botanical Station for Tropical Research and Sugar Cane Investigation". When the sugar cane mill closed in the 1920's (?), Harvard University continued the research station until the 1961. Since then, it has been managed by the Government of Cuba. New possibilities for collaborative with Harvard teaching and research may now be coming to life.  
     
  Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba Brasil nut pod, Cienfuego Botanical Garden, Cuba  
     
   
     
  Main pageAbout this tourEl Corazon de Cuba route mapJoin this tour  
     
 

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