An Open-Air Museum in the Very Face of Trinidad

Guáimaro, Buena Vista and San Isidro de los Destiladeros are slowly being returned to their former glory thanks to a comprehensive reanimation program

An Open-Air Museum in the Very Face of Trinidad. Photo: Carlos Luis Sotolongo Puig / Escambray

If you stand on top of some of the hacienda houses located in the Valley of the Sugar Mills, you come to understand the motives of Trinidad’s sacarócratas (Cuban sugar aristocracy) of the late XVIII century, when boasting an almost unique bucolic landscape.

Guáimaro, Buena Vista and San Isidro de los Destiladeros hacienda houses were the locations included in the tour of Escambray around the ruins that, thanks to a comprehensive reanimation program, are slowly being returned to their former glory so as to transform the place into a giant open-air museum.

FIRST STOP: SAN ISIDRO

While some tourists listen to the explanation given on the operation system of the old Jamaican train, and take photos of the bell tower of San Isidro de los Destiladeros former sugar cane mill, some others photograph the constant movement of wheelbarrows and workers going in and out of the ancient house.

According to Trinidad city curator, Duznel Zerquera Amador, “agreement was reached upon the overall rehabilitation of the site due to the once agro-industrial relevance of the settlement, where we can now guess the then established social relations, the habitat of the slaves, the productive life of the region, and the characteristics of the hacienda house, which has important heritage values”.

After years of rehabilitation, the works on the tower, the hydraulic networks and the structure of the house were completed in 2015. Efforts are now focused on several other building actions inside the house, as well as on the conclusion of a small dam, and the construction of supportive facilities to try to bring order to the avalanche of visitors to the site, said Antonio Salas, head of the construction brigade.

“San Isidro de los Destiladeros is highly demanded —dangerously, it could be said—, for the exchange of the natural landscape of the area with its own heritage and historical values, but it’s not fully prepared for the current tourist exploitation. This is a work of great dedication. Hopefully, the hacienda house can be ready this year”, added Zerquera Amador.

SECOND STOP: BUENA VISTA

Buena Vista hacienda was built between 1830 and 1835. It’s considered an exception in the region by Dr. Alicia Garcia Santana, “due to its constructive features and style, its proximity to the gardens, and its separation from the manufacturing facilities and the huts of the slaves”. But, for the young mason working on the roof of the house, it’s enough to have a look at the ruins of the cistern, the marble pieces scattered on the floor, and the privileged view at his feet, to realize how wealthy the inhabitants of the dwelling were.

Since the second half of 2015, the tourism real estate is major investor of this property. The Office of the Curator has so far executed the structural consolidation of the building and the two accessory facilities located behind. Grisel Sesmonde Cama, assistant director of production at the Company for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments, said that “the parapets of the walls are not concluded yet. For that purpose, a number of bricks of different types was ordered, which together make up such a complicated system, unique in the valley”.

Has it been difficult to reconcile the interests of the Ministry of Tourism with those of the Office of the Curator?

“I don’t think so; they have been respectful —said Zerquera Amador. So far, the work has been always discussed between the two of us. Of course, their interests are properly actions that are profitable and generate incomes. With that premise, we have entered into arrangements to preserve the essence of heritage and places that are also sustainable from the economic point of view”.

Once this stage is over, we will continue with the rest to conclude the restoration of the house, for which strategies are already on the way. “Here all goes well, journalist. This house speaks for itself, and it will generate a lot of profit when it starts to be exploited. It would be great if Cubans are also taken into consideration, in addition to tourists, so that we can enjoy this as well”, said a young worker graduated from the Restoration and Crafts School of the Trinidad’s Curator Office.

THIRD STOP: GUÁIMARO

It would seem that Don José Mariano Borrell and Lemus had risen from the dead to retrace the broad hall of his hacienda house (Guáimaro), the most prosperous sugar mill at the time when Trinidad became a white gold mine. This dwelling goes ahead in the restoration program since seven of its rooms, including the dinning room and the chapel, are ready for visitor.

“We started working since 1999; and the process has been a complex one. We have been forced to stop the work more than once due to technological and material issues. It’s been the lack of appropriate wood to repair the roofs, or water-resistant materials…; many of which have been brought from abroad”, said Rosela Ayala Hernádez, director of Investment and Development at the Office of the Curator.

The warehouse was also recovered. It is an architectural exponent that supported the manufacturing process, which currently exhibits a sample of archaeological finds. The purchase of raw materials will be fostered during this year, so as to work on what is supposed to be an interactive museum about the lifestyle of the sugar planters.

Contradictorily, Guáimaro ranch has not been as visited as San Isidro. This fact was confirmed by cultural promotion specialist Carmen Naranjo Maladriga, when saying that most visitors come to Guáimaro in the summer, as part of the tours organized by Aldaba Trading Company, or accompanied by tourism guides. “People don’t come here because we are 23 kilometers away from the city. The visit to this hacienda should be included in the travel circuits, thus helping to generate income that could be used on our own or other haciendas houses’ benefit”, she added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HANDS ARE NEEDED

Despite the commitment of the workers, the experts are greatly concerned about the exodus of the young graduates from the local Crafts School, whose support is determinant to conclude the reanimation actions of the valley.

“It would be wise to have more skilled young workers. We’ve made some efforts in this respect, but we haven’t achieved any results, so far. Crafts have been declining in general, mostly masonry and carpentry. Painters have been the most stable force”, Grisel Sesmonde Cama added.

Luckily, there’s always a dazzled boy like the young mason working at Buena Vista hacienda house, who knows he’s heir of a heritage worth rescuing. “I may not know anything about architecture and that stuff, but I feel happy because this moves forward, slowly, but it does”.p5 p6 p7 p8 p9 p10

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