Santiago de Cuba

Santiago: Rebellious Yesterday; Hospitable Today; Always Heroic

Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second city, with a population of more than a million people. It is known officially as “The Heroic City”. It is associated with slave rebellions; the Wars of Independence against the Spanish colonialists; and the struggle against the dictator Fulgencia Batista, that led to the 1959 triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

It is also known as the Cradle of the Revolution. It was here on July 26th 1953 that Fidel Castro led the armed assault on the Moncada Barracks, resulting in the death of 70 of his comrades and the creation of the July 26th Movement; it was here on 30th November 1956 that Frank País, the leader of the urban wing of the July 26th Movement, led an armed insurrection, timed to coincide with the arrival of Fidel Castro and 82 comrades on the boat the Granma from Mexico City; it was here, on the balcony of the town hall, in the early hours of 2nd January 1959 that Fidel announced the triumph of the Revolution.

In that speech he said:

“…Santiago de Cuba has been the strongest bulwark of the revolution…this will be a government solidly supported by the people of this heroic city, located in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra — because Santiago de Cuba is a part of the Sierra Maestra — Santiago de Cuba and the Sierra Maestra will provide the two strongest fortresses for the Revolution…”

Statue of Antonio Maceo, Santiaguero and leader of the 19th century Wars of Independence against Spain. The structures rising in the background represent the machetes used by the mambises, the Cuban fighters

Santiago is also known as “La Tierra Caliente”, the hot land. It is always a couple of degrees warmer than Havana, in the west of the island. The Lonely Planet guide book writes of the city:

“Enlivened by a cosmopolitan mix of Afro-Caribbean culture and situated closer to Haiti and the Dominican Republic than Havana, Santiago’s influences have tended to come as much from the east as they have from the west, a factor that has been crucial in shaping the city’s distinct individual identity…Setting-wise Santiago could rival any of the world’s great urban centres. Caught dramatically between the indomitable Sierra Maestra and the azure Caribbean, the city’s historical centre retains a time-worn and slightly neglected air that’s vaguely reminiscent of Barbados, Salvador in Brazil or New Orleans…Santiago is also hot, in more ways than one. While the temperature rises into the 30s out on the street, touts go about their business in the shadows with a level of ferocity unmatched elsewhere in Cuba…While never particularly unsafe, everything in Santiago feels a little madder, more frenetic, a tad more desperate…”

The view towards the bay

Poster of Fidel and Raúl Castro, commemorating the 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks

The Padre Pico steps in the Tivolí neighbourhood of Santiago

Classic 1950s car parked in Santiago street

 For anybody who wants to see some of the major landmarks in the city, have a look at the video below, of local group Septeto Contemporaneo, singing about their city:

Here is another music video filmed in Santiago, from the group Sur Caribe, singing about the Conga Santiaguera, the musical style originating in the city, particularly associated with the week-long carnival held at the end of July each year. Conga groups consist of people playing drums, “bells” (made from brake drums) and the corneta china, the Chinese cornet. Conga groups parade along the street, followed by hundreds of people gyrating to the rhythm.

Below is a video of a conga group parading through a Santiago street during the 2010 carnival. About a third of the way through the video, a bit of pushing and shoving breaks out among some of the youths and you can see some crowd control, Cuban style, courtesy of the Santiago police:

Santiago is also famous for being the birthplace of other Cuban musical traditions. For anybody interested in finding out more, both about the music and the history of the city, below is a link to a radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2007:



5 responses

18 05 2011

“For anybody who wants to see some of the major landmarks in the city, have a look at the video below”

Also, here is another video that shows the landmarks of Santiago de Cuba.
(Unfortunately a sexist one):

19 06 2011
jmcolomeJuan Manuel Colome

Cuba is not what it use to be – what’s left there now are the remnants of a broken country with equally broken spirited people and yet Cuba was once “La Tasita De Oro” full of life and abundance.

I was born in Santiago de Cuba on Nov 19th 1959 and left Cuba when I was 1 year old.

My dad fought in the bay of pigs and served many years in cuban prisons and yet I have never seen or visited Cuba.

19 06 2011

Cuba has some major problems, but I would not describe the country – and particularly not its people – as broken. Perhaps you should visit and see for yourself – you may even be surprised at what you see.

28 08 2011

Cuba for any one going as a turist is fantastic….but for the people living there is a dificult life full of miseries and poverty is easy going as a turist and enjoying the nice thing the cuban don’t have access to it. I’m from cuba my family live there and i have to send money every month in order for then to eat. is sad to see people talking about how wonderfull cuba is when there are from there and never live there but only for a few turist days

9 11 2011

THANK YOU – It’s easy to say when you eat all you want everyday and don’t worry about where the next piece of bread is coming from.

I see these “Cubans” in my hometown of Miami all day at “La Carreta” a famous place to eat and brag talk about how in Cuba everyone lives better than in the states.

I tell you, I’d love to whack these guys over the head with a baseball bat sometimes. I was born in Cuba, went through the bay of pigs issues with my dad being involved and have never been to cuba but probably know more about the island than most new gen cubans living here in Miami.

It’s a shame – maybe someday I’ll visit –

Juan Manuel Colome – cousin of “Fury Abelardo Colome” the assasin that has claimed more youngs lives in the revolution than most fidelistas.

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