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Trinidad: stunning city-museum of Cuba and the Caribbean

By John Waterhouse / Posted November 5, 2012

Trinidad is so highly praised that you just have to wonder. Its reputation, however, is more than well-deserved and tiny Trinidad is a real Cuban highlight and is absolutely worth a visit. Trinidad is in the centre of Cuba, adjacent to the Caribbean coast a 330km trip SE of Havana. The nearest airport is Cienfuegos.

UNESCO honored the city as a World heritage Site in 1988 and it already had been declared a National Monument within Cuba. The richness of Trinidad’s colonial architecture justifies these honorific titles entirely, given that it is one of the finest colonial towns in all the Americas.

The many interesting nooks and crannies; its cobbled streets paved with the stone used as ballasts in the ships of early Spanish traders; its excellent 18th- and 19th-century houses, mansions and palaces; its red-tiled roofs; its wrought-iron grated windows and stained glass arches, its plazas and the maze of odd streets in the center of the town make Trinidad one of Cuba’s greatest attractions. Walking down the cobblestone streets of one of the first towns founded in Cuba by the Spanish settlers on the site of a small Taino settlement in 1514 is like traveling to the past.

The Villa de la Santísima Trinidad–Town of the Holy Trinity–as it was named by the Spanish governor Diego Velázquez, is located in a beautiful and privileged spot in the center of the island, just off the Caribbean Sea.

Trinidad quickly developed into a thriving port thanks to the sugarcane industry. In 1755, the city had 264 blocks, 32 streets, 25 sugar mills, 55 cattle ranches, 104 tobacco plantations and three tile factories. Forty-three sugar mills were built in a matter of years in the 1840s, which marked the peak of Trinidad’s sugar trade.

From 1857 to 1866, Cuba experienced one of its worse crises. Slave uprisings and the war for independence took a toll on Trinidad’s economic development. In addition to this, the rich sugar barons gradually emigrated to the neighboring provinces of Cienfuegos and Matanzas whose ports were rising in importance. The economy collapsed and the city went down to obscurity. For decades, Trinidad languished. Isolated from the rest of the nation, it could only be reached by sea. The first road to the town was laid only in the 1950s.


This suspension of time–and progress–contributed to maintaining the colonial charm and elegance of Trinidad, but it is also the work of conservators and restorers and the love of its population for their city that have made Trinidad a relic of colonial Spanish times.

Its architectural style is predominantly Hispanic-Moorish influenced by the architecture and street layout that prevailed in Spain at the time. Its urban structure is proportioned and harmonious; nothing is huge or excessive.

Trinidad is actually a very small town centered around the Plaza Mayor, considered the second most important square in the country after Havana’s Cathedral Square. The beautiful buildings of great historic and architectural interest that surround the square date from the 18th and 19th centuries with some samples of the 17th century. These include the Church of the Holy Trinity, which was built on the site of a previous 17th-century church that was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1800s. Its tower affords a panoramic view over the square and the city beyond.

To the left of the Church is the House of Conspirators, known for its typical wooden Andalusian balconies and the 19th-century Brunet Palace, which now houses the Romantic Museum. On the east side of Plaza Mayor is the Museum of Archeology, which features Pre-Columbian finds as well as artifacts from the time of the Spanish conquest. On the other side of the square is the 18th-century House of the Sánchez Iznaga family, which is home to the Museum of Colonial Architecture.

Like frozen in time, Trinidad is a city with discreet charm, grace and simplicity.

John Waterhouse