The actual settlement Sagua la Grande was given to a Spanish settler in 1590. The area was used by pirates who plied the nearby cayos and hid in the meanders of the undulating Rio Sagua.
Its founding in 1812 was a means by the Spaniards to expand away from the Santa Clara influence. It was christened "Villa de la Purísima Concepción de Sagua La Grande" as decided by the fanatically-religious Queen Isabel II of España in 1866.
In the aborigen dialect, the word Sagua (Cagua) means "place where a lot of water flows". The namesake rio is proof as it crosses the island from south to north and goes by some 26 sugarcane plantations (170 at one time) which bordered the town.
From its seaport at Isabela de Sagua the sugar and molasses was exported; that is where a sign of its importance captains had to go through its customs processing building. The many cayos spread off its coast were hideouts and sites of enduring legends borne from pirates and their victims.
The town's neo-classical architecture is witness to the wealth of its dominating class before the modern Revolucion. The title of Cuban National Monument has not yet given the means and power to renovate and rebuild the mostly run-down town center. Had the US embargo not been supported by local hardline exilios 90 miles north, Sagua la Grande could today be a jewel of colonial marvels just as Habana Vieja has become.
Under Spanish rule, the vast wood reserves of the pristine forest areas along the coast were duly exploited by slaves for the Crown. It is said that Madrid's famous Escorial was entirely built from wood collected in the region then named la costa de oro.
From 1954 to 1958, every 10 October (to commemorate the first war against the Spanish colony), the Sagua-Habana long-distance race not unlike Italy's Targa Florio, was held from here to the capital using public roads. The crazy Cuban, Italian and American drivers rode Buicks, Jaguars or Packards at speeds up to 150 mph to reach the Malecon, 302 km away in less than two hours...
Those large expanses of greenery near Sagua la Grande were not dense enough, to hide Russian-built missiles. So started the 1962 Missile Crisis featuring a trio of politicos named Jack, Nikita and Fidel which brought the world on the brink of a major conflict.
The stalemate was an hour of reckoning for the controlling families of Sagua who had everything (to lose) and could not understand the meaning of the 1960 Revolucion. They left the grande ciudad which had been among the first in the world with sewers, a water distribution system, electricity, colour tv's and street lighting, even tramways and which, at one point had the largest number of pharmacies per capita.
Among its famous sons and daughters, the great modern painters Wilfredo Lam and Alfredo Sosa Brava, composer Rodrigo Prats, singer Antonio Machin, scientist Concepción Campa Huergo the woman behind a vaccine against meningitis B; baseball players Max Lasnier and Pedro Marrero; the actual US senator from Florida Mel Martinez, arch-enemy (basket-case) of socialism and victim of the Catholic Church's Operacion Peter Pan; then Prime Minister's Emilio Nuñez's son who married Fidel Castro's fisrt daughter, Mirta Diaz-Balart.
Jose Pardo Llada born here in 1923, educated by Jesuits, was an admired Havana radio host who helped the Revolucion by attacking the Grau, then Batista governments. First supported by a young lawyer named Fidel Castro, he came to disagree with Fidel and the Che's communist leanings and left Cuba in 1963 to settle in Colombia where he died in August 2009.
Life in the region today includes cattle raising and commercial fishing. Its large university installations are mainly for students of psychology, law, social and cultural studies, accounting, agriculture and agronomy.
This area north of the Villa Clara province is part of Jardines del Rey, one of eight national tourist-designated areas.
Amaro, 18 Caibarien, 99
Cienfuegos, 111 via Jicotea
George Washington, 52
Isabela de Sagua, 17 La Habana via Varadero, 277
Playa Uvero, 20
Quemado de Guines, 22
Rancho Veloz, 41
Remedios, 90 Sagua la Chica, 70 Santa Clara, 55
Santo Domingo, 41
Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), native of Sagua la Grande - Totem y Pajaro, 1951
POPULATION 55,068 in the regional township (municipio) which includes Baire, Chinchila, Este, General Nodarse, Isabela de Sagua, Jumagua, Malpáez, Oeste and Sitiecito (2007)
Two old classics re-opened in 2018 as 4-Star Cubanacan properties : • Hotel Sagua, calle Carmen Ribalta e/ Martí y Clara Barton, tel. (42) 66-5536; rents 51 bedrooms. • Palacio Arenas Armiñan, calle Solís, esquina (corner) Padre Varela, tel (42) 66-5536; rents 11 bedrooms, including two Junior suites.
A total of seven Viazul busses per day stop in Santa Clara 55 km away, closest Viazul terminal to Sagua la Grande La Habana - Santiago 3 x day via Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Bayamo Ruta 24 Same for Ruta 16 (2 x day) and Ruta 26 (2 x day)
TRANSPORTATION A daily train leaves Santa Clara at 4 p.m. to arrive here at 7 p.m.. The road, driving from Santa Clara is quite pleasant and goes through Cifuentes with a great art gallery facing a small sunny park and the everpresent José Marti and a small church.
WHERE ART 'THOU, O SPIRIT ?
Kardec mausoleum at Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris
The world's largest spiritualist community lives in Lily Dale, NY. Link
Sagua la Grande is the only town in Cuba hugely (albeit strangely) influenced, in the late 1800's, by spiritist Allan Kardec (1804-1869) who said then (and millions agree today) that the dead can "speak" to the living through a medium.
Some say spirits of local pirates and victims were strong here. In 1888, El Salvador, a local spiritism centre sent members to honor Kardec in Paris and others to attend a convention in Barcelona. Source
Teatro Uriarte, built in 1873, became Teatro principal in 1924, destroyed by hurricane in 1933, rebuilt in 1935 as Cine Principal and renamed Cine Sagua after the Revolucion - cinematreasures.org
PLAYAS & PIRATAS
The north coast and seaside are located in Isabela de Sagua some 17 km northeast of Guaimaro. Off the coast, there may be as many as 2,517 cayos (keys or tiny islands) which are part of the tourist zone called Jardines del Rey.
Among some of the lovelier cayos, one can find mythical Cayo Esquivel, abandoned since the Revolucion. There were at one time about 15 bungalows (see below) belonging to the local bigwigs, some members of Sagua Yacht Club and three small seasonal hotels (Ortiz, Lira, ).
Also on the coast by another road, at 20 km, Playa Uvero with dozens of casas on stilts. Still populated, the area is far from being a playa or attraction for tourists, it is for many Cubans a rare access to a breeze during the torrid summer (verano).
For almost a century up to 1640, pirates and corsarios (pirate hunters) jealously guarded their hideouts. Many until their death, hence the legends of buried treasure and those who spent their life trying to find any. Where is the motherlode ?
CAYOS & CORSARIOS
Historians say there were about 1,300 ships sunk in Cuban waters and many carried huge loads of gold. Some may still be hidden on rio Sagua or off the Bahia de Cadiz, maybe on a cayo, close to the Mexico-España sea routes where pirates usually robbed treasure-laden boats returning with their bounty.
Mostly gold, it was taken from Incas, Aztecs and other non-believers in God, tens of thousands of Mexican and Peruvian aboriginals who were victims of Spain's religious doctrine. Cuba formed decades ago Carisub with some diving operations undertaken by Canadian partners to look for treasure in unexplored Cuban waters. (See below)
Some of the privateers (corsarios) of the era became famous : from Britain, Francis Drake and Henry Morgan, the Dutch Laurent Graff and Cornelio Jol, the French Juan Davis Nau, the Cuban Diego Grillo and, in 1821, Frenchman Jean Laffite who hid on Cayo Cristo.
The territory favored by the pirates of the Caribbean spread over 2,517 cayos north of the Cuban Coast in what is now called Cayería de Sabana y Sabaneque, a territory covered in part by the lighthouse watch at Faro de Bahia de Cadiz.
This Cuban stamp from 1980 marked the building in Havana of the ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha found with its loot of gold, precious stones and silver worth at least 400 million dollars, a record find never equaled since five years before the wreck's discovery off the west coast of Florida.
The treasure was, alas, dearly paid by Mel Fisher who lost his son and daughter-in-law in the adventure undertaken 20 years before .
Some 167 museologists from 12 countries noted the high value of Cuba's underwater archeology, due to its unprecedented capacity to preserve the submerged cultural and patrimonial wealth.
There are 1,341 references of documented shipwrecks but just 130 have been discovered over the past 20 years. Adverse weather conditions and constant attacks by corsairs and pirates in the Caribbean, in addition to bad sailing conditions in the 16th century, contributed to a large number of shipwrecks off Cuban coasts.
Cuba's non-lucrative interest in archeology, Carisub was once backed by prominent personalities like French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997), who worked with Cuban scientists for several years.
Salvage operations carried out in the 1970s by the Cuban company Carisub were recorded in photos, films and videos by renowned filmmakers such as Fernando Perez (Havana Suite) and Rogelio Paris (Caravan). To date, Carisub has found the frigate Arrow, from which 2,000 pieces of English chinaware were recovered, and the brigantine Ines de Soto, which carried 33,000 of the first coins minted in the Americas, both from the 16th century, are examples of the wealth resting in the Caribbean's sea bottoms. 280507 Source
First on our list, the city's parks including Parque Independencia (first named Recuerdo) opened in 1860 near the river; Plaza La Libertad (first named Plaza de la Iglesia); Mausoleo de los Mártires (Plaza de la Cárcel); Parque Robau.
• Find what remains of classics, such as Hotel Telegrafo, Hotel Sagua, Hotel Plaza (1925) or the Villa de Paris (1920) and visit the more recent Plaza Wilfredo Lam, a pedestrian street
• Stages for theater and shows belonged then and maybe now to the Alkazar, the Iriarte, the Santos y Artigas and the Principal (renamed Sagua)
• Churches like Iglesia Parroquial de Sagua la Grande built in 1860 and the neo-gothic Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón
• El Triunfo bridge crosses the Sagua since 1905. On one of its sides, the park El Pélon with some nice natural settings and monuments to José Martí and a martyr at the War of Independence, José Sánchez Jorro
• The very large building (1.300 sq m) Casino Español facing Parque Independencia large living rooms or salons and a monumental helicoidal-shaped marble staircase
• Terminal Ferroviaria : the train station dates from 1882 and boasts two neo-classical shapes on its facade. Two new wings were added during the 20th century
• Vivienda del Conde de Casa Moré is a large private home built in 1873 by the founder and then manager of the regional railroad company, Conde Moré
• Palacio Arenas Armiñan whose facade is in renovation since late 2008 is exceptional Art nouveau with a moorish influence. Built in 1918, this building is considered by Cubans one of Villa Clara province's 8 wonders. Re-opened in 2018.
EVENINGS Cabaret Nocturnal on Carretera Resulta, Casa de Cultura Theater, dance classes, arts & crafts, music, gallery • Cine films, theater, shows and video room • Cabildo de San Francisco de Asís is also known as Kunalungo • Museo de la música Rodrigo Prats Shows in its lovely central patio
As of Spring 2017, the local authorities had granted a permit to rent to three casas in Sagua la Grande :
VALLE GRANDE Rosemary Garcia Guardado y Ernesto Garcia her dad
Calixto Garcia #1, e/ Brito y el rio (the Sagua river), near parque Joaquin Albara. tel. (42) 66-6413 cel. 52 76 80 63
Two aircon bedrooms with ensuites, entrance portal, parking, security camera.
HOSTAL UNIDOS Juan Antonio Corso Chaviano and spouse Geidy Estrada
Maceo 31, e/ Colon y Luz Caballero, parallel to bridge in repair, two blocks from parque central Marti - and zona wifi. tel. (42) 66-6347 cel. 52 92 70 02
Three aircon bedrooms, each with ensuite, fridge, tv and safety box; breakfast 3-5, no other meal service
HOSTAL DOÑA ONEIDA Oneida Loina Garcia Rivero y Gilberto Perez Garcia, manager
Cespedes 95, e/ General Lee y Carrillo, three blocks from main park. tel. (42) 66-2646 cel. 53 37 99 81
One large aircon bedroom with double bed and independent entrance, ensuite; kitchen, terraza. Breakfast 3-5, bedroom 25 cuc