Cárdenas: Charleston Of The Caribbean
Calle Calzada Cárdenas is a city and municipality in Cuba’s Matanzas Province with a quiet charm that is encouraged by the city’s picturesque architecture and alluring layout that is eerily similar to Charleston, South Carolina. Created in 1828, the city planners shunned the traditional Spanish plaza layout in favor of narrow streets and a perpendicular grid pattern modeled after Charleston, hence its nickname, “Charleston of the Caribbean.”
Cárdenas was created due to the unified support by some of the wealthiest Spanish–Cuban families from the nearby provincial capital of Matanzas. The city has grown consistently ever since but was buoyed by the completion of the railroad that tied the city and port to the rest of Cuba and the outside word.
By 1861, Cárdenas had 12,910 residents. By 1907, the number of residents had doubled. 100 years later, the population reached 103,087, making Cárdenas the 15th most populated city in the country and second most populated city, behind Manzanillo, that is not a provincial capital. Today, the city is divided into seven barrios; Cantel, Fundicion, Guasimas, Marina, Mendez Capote, Pueblo Nuevo and Versailles.
Tourists love this destination. Historic, terrific landscapes, business and industry, good restaurants, beaches, hotels and a train that makes the 109 mile jaunt to Havana, to the west, tolerable. Cárdenas was one of the first cities in Cuba to enjoy such luxuries as public transport via a tram network, electric service, telegraph and telephone.
Soon after its creation, the port began to buzz as the plantations relied on ships to cargo the region’s vast supplies of sugarcane to faraway destinations. The irony of this booming industry is that it soon attracted many European and American families. It is not unusual to see Cuban family names like Jones, Smith, Villa-Giorgi, Sterling or Larrieu to name a few. This influx of Europeans continued from the late 19th century well into the early 20th century.
In the Plaza de Colon, a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, given to the city by Queen Isabella II and erected in 1862, presides over the heart of the city’s elegant business and public buildings. From this particular vantage point, the character of the city, its people and charming elegance is on full display. While the presence of Columbus is undeniable, the city biggest architectural wonder is the ornate church which was designed by Rafael Carrera, the same architect who designed the historic Palacio Aldama in Central Havana.
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One of the natural anomalies of Cárdenas is the strong flow of fresh water from the harbor’s bed. It is presumed that this is caused by a number of outlets from subterranean rivers but this mystery is quite amazing. Another spectacular geographical attraction in the area is Cueva Saturno, a marvelous cavern that features phenomenal swimming areas and mysterious paths into the past.
The booming resort area of Varadero is part of the municipality of Cárdenas an often seems to overshadow this beautiful, often overlooked tourist destination. Cárdenas was in the world spotlight recently when young resident, Elian Gonzalez found himself in the middle of a political controversy involving the United States in 2000.
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