In 2013 we celebrated our 500th anniversary as a city. If you missed it, that’s a great shame, as it was spectacular but we’re still celebrating! The gala, entitled “Crisoles de 500 soles”, was considered one of the greatest events of the past 2 decades in Cuba. Over 700 artists gathered to decorate the city; many of these designs are still visible today, as we continue our homage to those 500 years of our city’s existence. The founding of the San Salvador Village over 500 years ago is an important part of Cuba’s history and also for anyone who lives in what we today call the New World of the United States and the whole Americas. The bedrock of the Americas resides in our city and we hope you’ll come to see us and feel the history.
When the Europeans arrived, Bayamo was a large Aboriginal community, and Spanish troops settled in Bayamo about a year and a half before the foundation of the San Salvador de Bayamo Village which was officially established in 1513. The village grew, its center forever shifting over time but, always maintaining a similar geographic location into, what we now call, just “Bayamo”
Bayamo celebrates two very popular festivals where everyone is welcome. First we have Las Enramadas festival which dates back to the 1930s, and takes place during Holy Week, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The streets of our city come alive with music and dancing; festivalgoer’s are offered the national pride of Bayamo and famous Cuban dish of roast pork with congrí (rice with black beans), root vegetables called Malanga and Yuca accompanied with salad, soft drinks, sweets, local beer and the powerful aguardiente spirit.
We then have our annual Carnival which is celebrated in August. During these four days, we the bayameses people and foreign visitors enjoy traditional city parades with colorful floats, fireworks, popular bands, dancing, daytime games and festivities for children, conga lines, and, of finally, our infamous carriage rides, with our buggies specially prepared with colorful ribbons and decorations throughout the whole Carnival time in Bayamo.
Getting around in Bayamo can be fun, mainly because of our two traditions. Bayamese people love their bicycles and, more than any city in Cuba, you’ll see them moving from one place to another in droves. The next favorite modes of transport are our horse-drawn buggies or carriages, on which you can ride through the narrow streets and view some of the most important plazas and buildings in the city. Our buggies have special access cars are prohibited from using to places like the the house where Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was born; the colonial-era church known as Parroquial Mayor; the Plaza del Himno, the Cathedral, the Plaza de la Revolución, the main park and the Window of Luz Vázquez, a Cuban woman who inspired “La Bayamesa” song. Our carriages will also take you on a comprehensive tour of the city along with visits to some of the best private paladar restaurants in Bayamo.
The economy of Bayamo is based on two fundamental areas; industry and agriculture. The city’s main products are sugar, construction materials, processed meats and over 100 varied dairy products. The Ice cream from Bayamo is known nationally as the best in Cuba, both for its quality and variety of flavors. This has earned Bayamo the nickname of the “ice cream capital” of Cuba. It is also famous for its varied cheeses and dulce de leche (milk toffee fudge). Amongst is local delicacies is the Fontana Cake, a type of sponge tart made with liqueur and butter and sold at the El Paso and La Cubana stores in the city.
The San Salvador de Bayamo Church, which was named a Cathedral in 1995, was inaugurated by diocesan Priest Alfonso Enrique de Armendáriz in the XVIII Century and it later evolved to become the beautiful three building church you see today. Picturesque colonial style brick walls, structured roofs and iron bars with splendid ornate carved Wood interior and golden pulpit, two choir areas and nine altars.
Archaeological studies on the San Salvador de Bayamo building corroborate the assumptions of the Vatican that the church is one of the first in Cuba. Located on the flank of the Plaza Del Himno and the same place where remains of an Aboriginal settlement were located in Bayamo, said to have been systematically destroyed by the Spanish upon arrival. Building on the church began in 1516 as a simple chapel with a few tables and a thin palm thatched roof. The first Mass was celebrated at this makeshift religious shrine in 1517. This early religious place was devastated by three earthquakes occurred in the years 1551, 1624 and 1766 .
Reconstruction began in 1916 and was finished in 1919. In 1954 the priests began to build classrooms for the teaching Catechism from the Catholic Church. A second building was annexed and a second floor area was built to provide housing and kitchen to the Church, these works were completed in 1957. In 1982 the church was completely restored to its current glory.
Every year a procession called the Virgen de los Dolores departs from the cathedral and is considered as one of the most beautiful cultural traditions in Bayamo.
Located at the intersection of the streets Canducha Figueredo, General García, Antonio Maceo and José Joaquín Palma you’ll find La Plaza de la Revolucion Bayamo or Revolution Square, a place frequented by locals who sit to chat or play dominos on its expansive stone floors, it has become the center of daily life in Bayamo. The square is also extremely close to the Parish Church of San Salvador de Bayamo and Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows. The square was previously known as Isabel II square, and then Square of Arms until it was finally named it Revolution Square by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes himself.
There is a full-length statue of Jose Marti on a marble pedestal in the very center of the square by the sculptor López Mesa which was unveiled on October 10th 1955. On the other side of the square in exact symmetry, a sculptured rectangular tablet holds a big sheet with the embossed letters of the Cuban National Anthem and La Demajagua flag and finally, there is a bust of Perucho Figueredo, the composer of the national anthem.
Finding the CARLOS MANUEL DE CESPEDES home and birthplace in Bayamo is rather easy as most visitors are either walking to or from this historic building, it is located at number 57 on Antonio Maceo Street in the heart of the city, a street previously called Burruchaga or Mercaderes alley. The house looks out onto the picturesque Isabel II. One of the few two-story colonial houses in the City it has been kept in the exact original state. Cuba’s national hero and freedom fighter, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes was born in one of the first story rooms of the house on April 18th 1819. He was the son of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Ana Maria de Quesada y Loinaz. He was also a distant cousin of Perucho Figueredo. Lovingly known by all Cuban as “Father of the Motherland” Cespedes is indelibly a part of Cuba’s long fight for autonomy and freedom. In 1915, Céspedes married Laura Bertini y Alessandri, an Italian, first in Rome and then later again at City Hall in New York City by Mayor John Purroy Mitchel. They had one child together, the daughter Alba de Céspedes y Bertini.
Cuba’s national hero was educated first in New York City until 1885, when his mother took him and his twin sister to Germany where they later studied. He earned degrees in international law and diplomacy from the Instituto Stanislas in Paris, France. In 1895, he returned to Cuba and from 1895 to 1898 he fought in the War of Independence, becoming a teniente coronel (lieutenant colonel) and the revolutionary post of governor of the Province of Santiago de Cuba. At his home there is a small museum in the upper floor of the building showing real furniture which dates back to Cespedes era and the XIX Century. The dwelling also features an original painting by Augusto Chartrand Dubois, and a huge four-poster bronze bed complete with two oval shields. The drawing on the head of the bed shows the Italian Lake Bromeo and the one on the feet side of the bed is a painting of the countryside.
The Anthem Square or Plaza del Himno in Bayamo covers an area of about 4 332 square meters (14 212 Sq Feet) and owes its name to the fact that on those cobblestones, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his combatants sang the Cuban national anthem for the first time on October 20th 1868 when taking the City of Bayamo in the famous peoples uprising. Historically linked to the adjacent Church, this public area is one of the most important places in Bayamo.
It has changed very little since the city of Bayamo was nothing more than a tiny settlement with its beautiful one-story colonial buildings dating back to the XIX Century, some of which were built over the ashes of those properties existing before January 12th 1869, the exact date the rebels burnt the City to impede its capture by the Spanish forces.
Some events in the bayamese lifestyle seem to underline this heading. The Village then called Bayamo as it is today, was enlarged much like many others in Cuba back in the XVI and XVII Centuries by its residents who learned to live by smuggling goods, as a primary means of making a living. Nevertheless, the foreign traders, almost exclusively from Spain, were not friendly at all and their presence brought pirates from both land and sea. Bayamo´s history, as told by its locals, boasts about how many of those pirate´s implemented largely unsuccessful raids on the city of Bayamo leaving its inhabitants victorious after every failed attempt. Or so the myths go…
Bayamo´s real life history reads like one of the best fictional conspiracy novels. However, in the case of Bayamo, it’s all true. Infidelities, plots and conspiracies inspired the movements for freedom and, later the independence of the thirteen other colonies. At the time, rebels were fueled by the open apathy of the high level authorities and aristocrat traders, a situation which only served to increase the angst of the rebels in the city. The uprising was started by progressive-minded youngsters who had returned to the city at the end of their studies in Havana or even Europe, forming a new generation of professionals that, once back at home, couldn’t live with the lack of liberties, criticizing the society and the situation as a backward environment controlled by the rich who enslaved the locals. Amongst the activists were; Juan Clemente Zenea, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Pedro (Perucho) Figueredo, José Fornáris and José Joaquin Palma, a group of youngsters who widely paraded their ideas which led to the uprising on October 10th 1868 which itself initiated the 10th Year War for independence.
The rebels entered the City victorious on October 20th and turned Bayamo into the Capital of the new Republic. On January 12th 1869 the villagers set the City on fire in one of the most glorious events in National History, primarily so that the approaching Spanish soldiers could not re-conquer Bayamo and create a new stronghold.
Nevertheless, the history of Bayamo also harbors other important facts, two of which are especially significant: The falling in battle of José Martí (The Apostle of Cuba) in the Dos Ríos conflict, on the outskirts of Bayamo and, contemporary history, the landing on December 2nd 1956 of Fidel Castro and his followers on the Las Coloradas beach aboard the now infamous Granma vessel. A boat brought from Mexico whose name was used to later name “Granma” the Province after it. This voyage and arrival of Granma is what propelled Fidel and his men to definitive independence on January 1st 1959 now known as the “Day of the triumph of the Revolution”.
Finally, we should not forget that Bayamo has about 100 hundred historically relevant places and, the province of Granma has 48 per cent of all historically significant sites in the whole country.
As the saying goes, “There is no road without a first step”, and many of the wars for freedom on the Island of Cuba were first won on these lands of Bayamo. Bayamo is the second village founded by Diego Velázquez in 1513 and during the course of the years, it also turned into the center for conspiracy and rebellion. Cuba’s first nationalist freedom fighter, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was born in this City (a national monument honoring him can be found in the city).
As capital of the fertile and mountainous province of Granma, Bayamo has a lot to offer in both history and attractions. Bayamo is also known as the cradle of the Cuban nationality due to its tradition and history. Great landmarks in our history took place here: Bayamo was proclaimed capital of the newborn Republic at Arms on October 20, 1868, when Cubans first rose together against the colonial Rule. Here, between warmth and fire the Cuban National Anthem was composed on January 12, 1869 when its inhabitants decided to set the city ablaze instead of surrendering it to the advancing Spaniard soldiers. Known as our homeland and a place of great national heroes, such as (the father of our mother country) Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, initiator of the first war for independence started on October 10th, 1868 and first Cuban who released his slaves from his own farm La Demajagua, recently declared a national Historic Monument due to its human, cultural and historic values.
To reach Bayamo you must descend southward from Holguin and beautifully picturesque highway, exactly 73 km by car, through plains and pasturelands that cover the fields of one of the most important cattle breeding centers of the East. The big historical attraction to our visitors sets are the colonial architecture reflected throughout in most buildings and in the numerous Museums that still stand, despite the passing of years.
Tradition increases the popularity of the City and many tourists that visit it are stimulated by the lyrics of a song by Luis Bonet: “Todo me ata a Bayamo”. from the eighties where he sings about the tradition to travel by horse-drawn carts through the narrow and winding streets Bayamo.
Bayamese residents, faithful to this habit, continue to use old colonial horse-drawn carts still designed and built today thanks to a group of artisans that keep up the tradition and art of manufacturing this historic means of transport. More than 5 Centuries of existence hold important cultural facets, which make visiting Bayamo a spiritual affair for those who come.
Many Cuban rhythms can find their roots in Bayamo, especially those associated with modern salsa music. Visit La Trova to hear the best exponents of this musical art right in Bayamo. Furthermore, the attractions of the Historical Center are numerous: Céspedes home, The Anthem Square and the Cathedral are to name but a few.
Bayamo offers to the leisure industry things missing in many destinations, history being top of the list. We feel that Bayamo makes Cuba much more than just Sun and Beaches. Sample its History, Traditions and Culture and you’ll definitely learn more about our island than most visitors do.