Architecture of Camagüey, Cuba The old town of Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, now Camagüey, was declared by UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008; the main reason was its exceptional values, which distinguish it from the rest of the Cuban cities: a seductive urban nucleus, in the form of a labyrinth, enchants visitors, while its eclectic architecture gives it a particular appearance among all the settlements of Latin America. Its inhabitants built an urban space with a very personal style that, on some occasions, lacks form at all. This sui generis way of creating a settlement left a set of codes far from the traditional layout of streets with aligned houses that, over time, cemented a solid urban identity.Read more... Architecture of Camagüey, Cuba, during the colonial period The beginnings of the city were reduced to an empty lot, depending on the Plaza de Armas or Plaza de la Iglesia Mayor, and the outskirts. The convents of San Francisco de Asís (1599) and Nuestra Señora de la Merced (1601) formed with the center a curious and imperceptible 90 degree angle. At the same time, some stretch of straight street was built. From 1528 the construction process of the first urban and architectural attempts begins. The first buildings correspond to the foundational urbanism: a precarious architecture made up of materials that are not very durable such as wood, yagua and guano. It was not until the 17th century that the construction process began to consolidate, and some hermitages began to be built, which later became monumental buildings such as those already mentioned in San Francisco and La Merced. Similarly, the number of houses increased, with the introduction of brick and other techniques derived from the use of clay, which allowed them to achieve greater durability. The labyrinthine layout was the result of both disobedience of laws and the attempt of the residents to build a defensive system against pirates and filibusters in a city with medieval airs but without walls or moat; instead they used two rivers and a convoluted path. Between the years 1738 and 1739 two solid wooden bridges were built, famous throughout the Island, which allowed residents to communicate with nearby towns. They then began to build their houses in the direction of these two works, which marked the gradual growth of the city to the east and west. According to the Camagüey Architecture and Landscape Guide, the temples “defined the parishes and the neighborhoods were formed on them, the urban identity was strengthened in a set of customs drawn with subtle differences in each one. The squares personalized the residents who lived in its vicinity, and a set of economic, moral, spiritual or character associations differentiated the inhabitants of the Plaza del Ángel, those of the Plaza del Puente or those of the Plaza del Pozo de Gracia." The architecture that is preserved today and makes the city proud dates from the 18th century. The current image of our architecture is basically defined by two repertoires: the religious one, determined by its magnificence and its impact on urban planning, and the residential one,the most numerous, characteristic and varied, possessing the peculiarities, habits and lifestyles of the dissimilar generations participating in the entire construction process. Throughout this stage, the hospital convent of San Juan de Dios, the churches of La Soledad, Santa Ana, the Parish Church, Santo Cristo de Buen Viaje, the Hospital of Women in El Carmen and the church of La Caridad were built . All of these buildings were erected using brick walls; this was a distinctive modality of the central part of Cuba, and that differentiated it from that used in the west, where the use of stonework made it possible to achieve greater details in the figurative order. In this period, the first hermitages and convents were also rebuilt. Linked to the founding axis by a solid masonry bridge, rebuilt in 1770, a small town would emerge in the early 1700s, centered around the sanctuary of La Caridad. This time it was decided to organize the new neighborhood under a planned concept. Flooding during the rainy season led to the emergence of the facade line, with wide portals linked together, causing a significant contrast to the old city. Towards the second half of the 18th century and during the first half of the 19th century, the traditional house took root and dissimilar functional and expressive variations were introduced. Stylistically this house feeds back from the Spanish-Mudejar experience, but at the same time it incorporates some details of Baroque influence, mainly at the level of mixtilinear arches and in the formal codes carried out on foundations, windows and doors. Demarcated by galleries, at this stage the patio maintains its character of space necessary for the operation of the traditional house. On the other hand, the facades lose their flattened character and their distinctive elements are perfected, among which it is worth noting the eaves, mainly of braces, which had appeared in the first half of the 18th century, and which is typical of the central region and very particular of Camagüey. Another differentiating element, which responds to the mezzanine and two-storey facade schemes, is the case of the balconies with wooden or iron railings. During this period, although building did not reach the depth of the previous century, some large buildings emerged, such as the San Lázaro (1819) and El Carmen (1825) ensembles, in which the traditional Baroque and Neoclassical codes were combined through the distribution of the pilasters on both levels as with the use of the false barrel vault inside. Likewise, in 1863, the Greater Parish Church was intervened and neoclassical concepts were applied to the facades as well as the construction of the tower. Regarding the civil repertoire, this type of buildings are scarce during the colonial period, highlighting the Town Hall (1728); the Cavalry barracks (current Ignacio Agramonte museum, 1848); the Infantry barracks (current nursing home, 1850) and the Teatro Principal, from that same year; as well as some others related to religious institutions such as hospitals and guesthouses. As early as 1844, the city had 121 streets and alleys, most of them narrow and winding and with very poor pavement to face the rainy season. Little by little, the new urban growth was regulated and Calle de La Reina was arranged straight, extending to the north; for its part, the streets that surrounded it revealed a marked preference for the 90-degree angle, which presumed a military aesthetic, entrenched with the construction of monumental buildings. At the northern limit of the city, the Cavalry and Infantry barracks were established, to give the impression of a protected city. Architecture of Camagüey, Cuba, during the Republican stage Similar to the neighborhood of La Caridad, the Avenida de los Mártires was distinguished by continuous portals for public use; however, it did maintain its residential character. This is how the city is compacted into an old center supported by two long extremities, thus becoming an extensive set of urban, architectural and historical values. With the arrival of the neocolonial republic, urban spaces were resignified and the name change of Puerto Príncipe for Camagüey added the fact of renaming its streets and squares in order to honor the heroes and martyrs of the War of Independence. The beginning of the last century entails the introduction of eclecticism, a style that gives all social classes and hierarchical levels different possibilities to express the thinking of a new era. Between the years 1900 and 1945 new buildings are built within the traditional city, others are replaced and some are modernized, resulting in a stylistic symbiosis that today confuses those who pay attention only to the external expression of the property. In Camagüey, eclecticism is defined by two clear tendencies: on the one hand, the academic, characterized by an interpretation of classical codes or European historical styles, and on the other, the popular eclectic, supported by the use of repetitive elements with local innovations incorporating, in many cases, details from the stylistic influences applied in buildings of greater connotation. With neoclassical influence, and framed in the first trend, are the Pious Schools and the Institute of Second Education. With neo-Gothic influence: the churches of the Sacred Heart and San José, which respond to the application of a scheme influenced by the Gothic. The Art noveau influence is best appreciated in the well-known example provided by the house on Avenida Finlay 41, which incorporates an interpretation of Gaudian modernism on its facade. The popular eclectic is the most widespread in the entire city and includes very interesting interpretations, especially at the facade level. An element that gives the old city and the rest of the town an undeniable difference in relation to the colonial period, is the introduction, to a large number of houses, of the portal in the form of a corridor, in close connection with the layout belonging to the avenues of La Caridad and Los Mártires mentioned before as well as other individual buildings, basically in the neighborhoods of La Vigía and La Caridad. From the 1930s onward, art deco was introduced as a style of transition towards the Modern Movement, which gradually modified the traditional spatial conformation acquired from eclecticism, of which the decoration and the high props still remain at this date. The old Champagnat school constitutes the most monumental building in this style. Likewise, at that stage, the neo-colonial style was introduced, which was fed back from the colonial codes as a way of approaching the roots and a sign of identity. With this style, the current headquarters of the Ballet of Camagüey and the Provincial Library stand out, an expression achieved with the modification carried out on that old building, as well as a large number of homes in and outside the Historic Center. As part of this first modernity, the movements called protomodern or protorationalism and the modern monumental appear, albeit in smaller numbers. Both correspond to the 1940s and are expressed from a simplification of the formal criteria. Pro-rationalism is exemplified in the building located at Cisneros 131 and the modern monumental buildings that stand out the most are Maternidad Obrera, and the facade of the Ignacio Agramonte museum. Starting in 1950, the second modernity began, characterized by the entry of rationalist codes along with organic criteria, based on American influence. Some high-rise buildings with novel floors are built with the use of concrete, but the greatest contributions are discovered in the individual home, which introduces new versions of floors that incorporate interior courtyards, portals, terraces and Miami style carpentry, under a new system of proportions. Architecture of Camagüey, Cuba, during the revolutionary stage After the triumph of the Revolution, in the 1960s, new construction programs were introduced that responded to the social transformations that were taking place in the country at that time. It is at this time that housing and the educational sector are prioritized. With the inheritance of the modern movement as a premise, the Lenin de la Paz district is built, to the north of the city, with medium-rise buildings next to the service buildings, and based on the above rationalist criteria. Built later, the Julio Antonio Mella district constitutes the largest residential complex in the city and was conceived to be made with prefabricated models, although some buildings are made of blocks, bricks and reinforced concrete. By including responses to educational institutions, health works, hotels, among others, the new architecture goes beyond housing programs, and thus responds to contemporary codifications derived from modernity, criteria that continued to dominate architecture until the end of the 20th century. In the same case is the district “Ignacio Agramonte”, popularly known as Planta Mecánica, since it was built next to that institution, with the aim of providing housing for workers in that industry. At the end of the last century and already in the 21st century, despite the fact that there was a depression in the number of houses constructed due to the crisis caused by the collapse of the socialist camp and the blockade imposed on Cuba; some new neighborhoods were assembled made of mainly small apartment buildings in different areas of the city to meet the housing needs of the residents.