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Cienfuegos, Cuba: Its lost (and found) palaces

Cienfuegos is one of the pearls of Cuba. Cubanos call it "Perla del Sur" (the pearl of the south). The city was founded in 1819 by the French who came in from Haiti (which at the time was a French colony). Located around a magnificent bay, the city sometimes looks like Paris. It developed quickly in the first of the 20th century thanks to trade, and later to gambling, casinos, and resorts. It was here that the famous musician Benny More (Bartolome Maximiliano More Gutierrez), the Cuban singer, began his career.

Over the years many buildings as gorgeous and ornate as any palace were built across the cities of Cuba. One city rich in these palaces is Cienfeugos on the south-western coast. They are the remnants of this rich historical past.

The first palace is my favorite. It is the Palacio de Ferrer, located on the Jose Marti Square, built in 1918. Although abandoned, it now hosts the Casa de la Cultura Benjamin Duarte. Each evening, from 5 PM, dance classes take place in the empty rooms of the palace, which comes back to life. Walk through the rooms and corridors, enjoy the dancers, admire the magnificient colored tiles and decorations, and then simply climb up to the iron dome or to the terrace, and watch the view over the city.

Then comes the time to explore the Malecon and Punta Gorda district, in the past an wealthy neighborhood of Cienfuegos. The rich have built many colorful and kitschy neo classical palaces there. These aren't abandoned but are a joy to visit.

Very singular and unknown, standing right to the shore next to the Marina, I discovered a small oval palace. Alas, no one could give me its name. The tiny gem of a palace is located on the grounds of a school and you have to ask permission to enter.

In addition, close to it, two other palaces (in excellent condition) are worth a look. The first one is the Palace Club Cienfuegos. This neoclassical palace now houses the Cienfuegos Yacht Club, a tennis court and a bar-restaurant. Close to it, the Hotel Palacio Azul is a beautiful neoclassical blue palace surmounted by a cupola. From the cupola, very nice view over the city. If your wallet says "ok", you can stay there!

But the jewel of Punta Gorda is the Palacio de Valle. It is an incredible Arabic style palace. It was built in 1917 by a Spanish (Alsisclo Valle Blanco), with a creative architectural style. Batista wanted to transform it into a casino. Nowadays, the palace is a restaurant. You might be lucky enough to meet Carmencita Iznaga, who is a pretty but no longer young Creole woman. She will surely play the piano for you, with one (or more) glass of rum. Then she will try to sell you her CD. You would be wrong to refuse to buy it.

Finally, return back to the center of the city, to discover the ruins of the imposing Colegio de Jesuitas Palace. This palace was built in 1884 by the Jesuits. It is now half abandoned and falling apart into ruins.

These are some of the best palaces to discover in Cienfuegos. But if you look, you can explore and discover some others in that city, and much more in Cuba.

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Augustin Marck is the founder of the ExploGuide travel database, a website dedicated to travelers who want to discover off the beaten track locations. He now runs the site and its member community. Passionate about travel, Augustin is also a freelance writer for travel blogs, and for another travel website dedicated to his native Provence region in France.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: June 26th, 2013

Updated: August 7, 2016



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