Remedios: Another Historical Colonial Settlement
Remedios is another of Cuba’s magical early settlements that is believed to have been kept secret from the Spanish crown until the town grew to proportions that had to be recognized. Historians are not exactly sure when Remedios was originally settled but the settlement in Santa Clara Province is believed to have been founded by Spanish nobleman Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa on the 13th of April in 1514.
If that estimate is accurate, Remedios would only have been preceded by Baracoa, founded in 1511 and Bayamo founded in 1512 and before Trinidad was founded in 1514. The city was eventually declared a city by Queen Isabella herself but there is a certain mystery about the city.
Because it is locate about 4 hours by bus from Havana and 50 minutes from Santa Clara, Remedios is unknown to most travelers and to just about all People-to-People Cuba travelers. Want to know about other fascinating but obscure People-to-People treasures? Contact Info@travelguidecuba.com.
Local folklore suggest that the city’s founder, Vasco Porcallo de Figueroa, attempted to secret the settlement from Spanish authorities in order to avoid the steep taxes imposed upon the colony. However, the village was in fertile territory where sugar, and tobacco crops flourished and the population soared quickly.
The region also profited from healthy cattle which farmers sold to the Florida colonies. By the end of the 17th century, Remedios was one of the most productive towns in all the Caribbean. Currently the population is about 50,000.
Located 3 miles from Cuba’s northern coast in the center of the island, the town is host to one of the oldest annual Christmas celebrations in the Caribbean, the Cradle of the Parrandos which runs from December 16th through December 26th every year. This festival is popular for Cubans but does not receive the attention of tourists.
Vasco and his wife, the daughter of Taino chieftain Cacique de Sabaneque, were the beneficiaries of a huge personal fief from Gobernor Diego Velazquez. Under Spanish law, Vasco was entitled to govern the town as he saw fit. Through a stream of land grants in the 16th century through the 18th century, Vasco’s family steadily grew the city and surrounding area. Cattle and sugar remained mainstays for the city. By the 18th century Remedios was an economic force unparalleled by other central Cuban towns.
In 1682, the town had a setback caused by petty jealousy. Father Gonzalez de la Cruz notified the Spanish Crown that the city was under a Satanic spell. In 1684, the Crown issued a Royal Decree relocating the settlement. However, contented farmers and residents of the town chose to remain. Only 18 families moved to the new settlement. These families settled in what is now Santa Clara, some 50 miles away.
Like so many other Cuban early settlements, Remedios was unprotected from numerous pirate attacks. The city’s residents chose to apply white paint to the ornate gold featured in the city’s churches to avoid protect the gold from the infamous looter François l’Olonnais. Between 1944 and 1954, Eutiimo Falla Bonet sought to recover the gold. He had traced his family roots to the city and hired workers to strip the white paint and recover the family gold.
The Iglesia Mayor of San Juan Bautista had 13 beautifully crafted altars all decorated in gold that was painted white to disguise the precious metal. The other church, Iglesia del Buen Viaje, which has never been restored, still presides over the square but is in disrepair and not in use. Plaza Mayor in Remedios was restored in 1970. In 1980, the city center was declared a National Historic Monument. Colonial Spanish architecture still dominates the city’s center and the historic Plaza Mayor, which is the only city center in Cuba that features two churches on the square.
Las Parrandas de Remedios was founded by Father Francisco Vigil de Quinones who officiate dove the Iglesia Mayor San Juan Bautista de los Remedios. His genius still survives today. At 9:00 p.m. on December 24th each year, the church bell tolls and two Remedios neighborhoods compete by displaying their creative talents. The neighborhoods are San Salvador and El Carmen. A record of the competition is maintained in the Museum of Parrandas, a 19th century museum. Remedios does not get a lot of attention from most People-to-People Cuba tour providers but if you choose a custom tour, this 16th century city could easily be included.
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