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Slave's Route: Patrimonial Ruins in Eastern Cuba

Eastern Cuba, which treasures a vast natural wealth and has excellent conditions for the development of agriculture and the sugar industry, also has a rich history related to slavery.

Precisely, the development of the aforementioned economic activities demanded cheap and strong labor force that could resist hard working conditions.

Coffee and sugar plantations witnessed the hard labor of African slaves, who were forcibly uprooted from their homelands by the Spaniards.

Eastern Cuba, which has a centuries-old history, holds the ruins of dozens of French-Haitian coffee farms from the late 18th and the early 19th centuries.

Nearly one hundred such farms were built in Santiago de Cuba by the French settlers, who brought their customs and culture.

Thirty-two of those coffee farms, developed by French immigrants who escaped the revolution in neighboring Haiti in 1789, were built in the eastern Cuban province of Guantánamo.

Ruins of coffee farm. House
Ruins of coffee farms
Ruins of coffee farms. House

The other farms, the majority of them, were constructed in the zones of Gran Piedra, El Cobre, Dos Palmas and Contramaestre.

The farms are part of the so-called coffee belt in southeastern Cuba, and are a key element in the history and culture of the Caribbean Island, as they are a clear testimony of the development of coffee plantations centuries ago.

In addition to the original design of the farms, those areas also hold evidence of the agro-industrial techniques used by the French immigrants, as well as their customs and architectural styles that were similar to the farms that they destroyed before fleeing to Cuba.

Faraway areas in eastern Cuban mountains contributed to protecting the evidence of the development of French-Haitian coffee farms, which have endured the battering of nature and the passing of time.

The remains of the farms show singular solutions to problems to structure a road network to make it easier to transport production to the points of shipment.

Preliminary studies also showed that the typical coffee unit built by the French settlers consisted of the living quarters, which were also used as a store house, roads and agricultural and industrial areas.

The ruins of coffee farms, which were declared Humankind's Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), are – according to experts – a true monument to hydraulic engineering, road design, funerary customs and production techniques that reveal the mastery of their creators.

The French immigrants also brought their rich cultural treasure, which influenced the development of literature, music, dance, religion and gastronomy in the eastern part of the country and even in the Caribbean, beyond Cuban borders.

History lovers can visit the ruins of such coffee farms as Santa Sofía, which had a labor force of more than 600 slaves, Kentucky and La Isabélica. The latter is so well preserved that it houses the Museum of Ethnography.

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