Located 12 miles south of Havana center, Santiago de las Vegas reached a population of 22,000 in 2000. The addition of the José Martí International Airport in Havana has boosted the local economy but the center in the ward of Boyeros has a long and storied history.
The settlement sprung up in 1683, the byproduct of tobacco plantations at Sócalo Hondo, Managua, Bejucal and La Chorrera. The settlement was under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela. The archdiocese expanded quickly calling for construction of a Catholic church was built in 1694.
In 1725, the population mandated that the property lines of the settlement be expanded. The new town was named Santiago de Compostela de las Vegas. The designation solidified the town as a vibrant and necessary political and economic center, a status quietly enjoyed by the town for many years.
The historic cathedral El Rincón De Santazaro was completed in 1800. One tower was decimated in an 1846 hurricane. The town cemetery was completed in 1814 but was soon outgrown with a new plot developed in 1895. In 1911, the Consistorial house was constructed and remains a popular landmark of the town.
The embattled King Ferdinand VII of Spain declared the town a city in 1824. The community responded by constructing a statue in the Kingar Recreo Square. In appreciation Ferdinand proclaimed the City Council “Faithful and Very Illustrious” in 1831.
In 1836, a land ownership scheme was created for the city but was unexpectedly awarded to Bejucal. By 1845, the development plan was implemented for Santiago de las Vegas.
For a small town, Santiago de las Vegas has had its fair share of celebrity births. Celebrated soprano Esther Borja and noted musicologist Helio Orovio were both born and reared in the town.
World renowned botanist Juan Tomas Roig Mesa and noteworthy Italian author Italo Corvino were also raised in Santiago de las Vegas.
The town is a transportation hub and convenient to the airport where a National Bus Station helps transport traffic from larger metropolitan areas to rural regions in the south and southwest.
Santiago de las Vegas is also distinguished by the Psychiatric Hospital of Mozzorra and the Los Cocos sanatorium, which treats and cares for patients suffering HIV/AIDS. The Sanatorium El Rincon is one of Cuba’s foremost leprosy centers.
The tranquil city comes to life with the festivity of San Lazaro on December 17th each year. Tens of thousands of worshippers and tourists don purple cloth and bear unusual penances in gratitude for the miracles of San Lazaro.