Cienfuegos, Cuba "La Perla del Sur"

Our trip to Cuba was only 11 days long and you can find the details of our itinerarywhere to stay and where to eat in Havana in earlier posts. Here I want  to share some pictures and impressions of Cienfuegos where we spent a couple of days. I have to say we liked this town, known as the "Pearl of the South", and I'd recommend it highly for anyone interested in architecture. Above and below are images of the impressive Plaza de Armas.

It doesn't have the dramatic scenery of Vinales, or the Spanish colonial influence you'll see in the architecture of Trinidad, but it has a charm and character of it's own that is both distinctive and interesting. Founded by settlers of French descent in 1819 (many of whom came  from New Orleans) Cienfuegos has a European and  a particularly  French influence in both its architecture and urban design. 
The "Urban and Historic Center of Cienfuegos" was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 for both the quality of its neoclassical architecture  and because, according to UNESCO, "Cienfuegos is the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th century.
The city was laid out on a grid pattern, carefully planned to conform to enlightenment ideas about order, health and public space. The Lonely Planet suggests the urban design in Cienfuegos was adopted several decades later by Baron Haussmann (who was responsible for the redesign of Paris) though I could find no evidence for this elsewhere. 

Many of the most significant  buildings are built around the large Plaza de Armas pictured above. Here you'll find the City Hall, cathedral, the Teatro Tomas Terry (in the center of the photo)and the Ferrer Palace which is currently undergoing extensive renovation and will reopen as a fine arts museum. In Cuba it sometimes feels like every cultural institution in the country is under ongoing renovations!
I highly recommend visiting the magnificent Teatro Tomas Terry (above) which has a beautiful interior. Built in the 1880s it welcomed Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt and Anna Pavlova. In many ways  it reminded me of the famous opera built in the Amazon city of Manaus which we visited some years ago. Both speak to the wealth of the plantation society and both were designed for the tropical climate; with overhanging balconies and louvre doors that opened to catch any possibility of relief from the heat. The combination of wrought iron work and tropical hardwood is quite captivating  and it's intoxicating to think that Cienfuegos could attract the most well known artists of the day.

The  pale blue Ferrer Palace, right next to the rather odd triumphal arch on the Plaza de Armas (photographed above and below) was delightful. I loved climbing up to the circular lookout which reminded me of a giant Faberge egg! The renovations are ongoing and like so much of Cuba it had a faded, paint peeling splendor!

From the rooftop you can see the dome of the City Hall and the bay in the distance.
Also on the rooftop of the Ferrer Palace is this beautiful neoclassical pavilion  with incredible interior and exterior detailing.
It was lunchtime and  extraordinarily hot. Why do I always find myself sightseeing at the hottest time of the day, clearly it's still true that only "Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun". The Cuban craftsman had a much better idea and was lying under the scaffolding asleep, but the photo below gives you an idea of the  detailed work he was completing on the ceiling of this gorgeous place.
However, the details aren't restricted  to the interior. Below  you can see a wedding cake like decoration on a rooftop column.
One of the great joys of looking at buildings in Cuba is the eclectic nature of their architectural heritage and in this regard Cienfuegos is no exception. While the majority of the neo-classical buildings date from 1850-1910, the city also has interesting architecture from other periods, including examples of Art Deco, Modernism and colorful Miami style mansions  from the 1920's and 1930's in Punta Gorda. My favorite building may have been the Palacio de Valle, a Moorish fantasy palace it  is a magnificent building with turrets and decorations that go beyond excessive. We took shelter here during a storm and unfortunately I was unable to photograph it due to the heavy rain. This photo is taken from which has lots of great information on the architecture of the town.
The previous day I took a picture of this  wonderfully stylized Art Deco Baptist church.
We were also interested to see this neoclassical Masonic Temple, pictured below.
Cienfuegos is a delightful place because there's lots to look at and learn while you wander around; whether you're out on the coast at Punta Gorda or in the center of town. People are friendly and as the city of the legendary singer Benny More there's lots of great music. This is a relatively affluent area by Cuban standards and the city isn't dependent on tourism though I do wonder whether it will be as pleasant when the cruise ship crowds come flooding in? Hope you've enjoyed the tour, I'd highly recommend including Cienfuegos on your trip to Cuba and no, I'm not working for the local tourist board!


Raoul said…
Always have heard "Cienfuegos" in Cuban songs.... now I know why. How gorgeous!
Glad you liked the post - we had dinner at a restaurant where they played lots of Benny More's old songs which was great.