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Among the city of Holguín’s most notable charms are its parks, which are more than spaces designed simply for rest and recreation, but rather part of the city's culture created by residents who value its universal appeal.
The “Historic Network of Plazas of the City of Holguín,” was declared a Protected Area of the Republic of Cuba, by the National Monuments Commission under Resolution No. 4, of September 23, 2014.
With 12 plazas (squares) and plazuelas(small squares) located across a two kilometer stretch, beginning at the Loma de la Cruz and ending where the Marañón and Jigüe Rivers meet, with Máximo Gómez and Morales Lemus streets marking its lateral boundaries, this is the only network of its kind in Cuba, according to the President of the Provincial Historic Sites and Monuments Commission, Hirán Pérez Concepción.
Construction on the city’s group of plazas began in 1720, with the creation of La Parroquial square, today Julio Grave de Peralta Park, followed by the Plaza de Armas, currently Calixto García Park. Later, in 1752 Plaza Nueva was erected (Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Park), and subsequently plazas Camposanto (Martí Park), Mercado ODonnel (La Marqueta) and Mantilla (Rubén Bravo Park), as well as the area of small squares known as Ferrocarril del Norte, which were also built during the colonial period, noted Hirán.
“The Plazuela del Ferrocarril del Sur, González Valdés Park, known as the Loma de la Cruz, famous for its 458 step stairway; Finlay Square, today Plaza Armando Mestre, and Paquito González, were all built in the 20th century. The most recent of the group is the Parque de las Esculturas, opened in 2014.”
Following a thorough investigation, the network which traverses the city’s historic center and originally sought National Monument status, was granted the condition of a protected area, given the over 800 buildings of varying patrimonial value located within its boundaries.
Hirán notes that this category has helped establish the necessary legal mechanisms to organize and undertake building works supported by authorities from the Communist Party of Cuba and Holguín’s provincial and municipal governments.
Initiated at the end of 2014, the 1.5 million peso renovation of the Plaza de La Marqueta concluded in April of 2016.
The square’s main building, which dates back to 1918, was restored to its former splendor after being left in a state of disrepair for decades. Regular visitors and others arriving for the first time describe it as an attractive cultural-commercial complex, where you can find, among other things, furniture, textiles, and an assortment of quality crafts made from leather, fibers, wood, glass, and clay.
The project was led by architects Lilian Rodríguez and Gerardo Segura; and engineers Sayra Maceira and Jorge Figueredo, from the Provincial Monuments Office. From the very outset, the team also thought about how to renovate the areas surrounding the square.
For this the Art Services Entity, affiliated with the Provincial Administration Council was called on to contract qualified personnel to restore the patrimonial features of house facades and state facilities located nearby.
One of the public buildings that underwent a repair and remodeling process was the Asociación Hermanos Saiz headquarters, which also functions as the Casa del Joven Creador. The organization is located in what was, only months ago, a badly built commercial facility. Now, thanks to the good taste of project leaders and painstaking efforts of the workforce, the building features an exposition gallery on the first floor which houses diverse artistic expressions, and a cafeteria, while the second level is reserved for the association’s offices, an internet room, as well as work and meeting spaces.
Five hundred thousand pesos were assigned to restore Calixto García park, according to figures provided by Mariano García Freeman, head of the Investment department at the Community Services Provincial Office.
Work has been intense with fountains and curved granite benches restored, as well as perimeter walls, around which a new sidewalk was built. In addition to the original pillars which stand at all four entrances to the park, three of the fountains constructed when the square was first built were also restored.
Regarding priority works underway, he highlighted the installation of original lighting systems and continued restoration of the granite paving around the promenade and walkways, scheduled to be completed by 2017 in order to begin polishing and placing garden features.
Over time this park has become the heart of the city; surrounded by emblematic institutions such as the La Periquera Provincial Museum, Eddy Suñol Theater and Alex Urquiola National Library, which like many other of the city’s buildings, have benefited from repair and restoration works. Meanwhile, the nearby Saratoga Hotel – of great patrimonial value – is currently being renovated.
Furthermore, 2013 to 2014 saw the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes park undergo restoration works. The project, led by Architect Yoanka del Cerro Campana, a member of the Provincial Monuments Office, included the manufacture and laying of tile paving stones produced by a brickwork factory in the municipality of Rafael Freyre, as well as the replacement of colonial style lighting, a task assumed by visual artist José Gabriel Maslotikhas, while green areas were completely remodeled.
The chain reaction was immediate, as seen in the remodeling of various buildings located nearby, including the Provincial Chess Academy and house where distinguished scholar of Hispanic American culture José Juan Arrón was born. Also underway is the restoration of the former La Esmeralda lodging house, soon to be reopened as an Encanto Hotel.
The impact of these renovation works, which have injected new life into the Loma de la Cruz, Rubén Bravo, Julio Grave de Peralta and Martí parks is obvious to all.
In regards to future efforts to be undertaken as soon as financial and material funding comes through, Hirán highlighted the restoration of the Plazuela del Ferrocarril del Norte. The aim of the project, outlined in Hirán’s Masters degree thesis which he is soon set to defend, is to convert the area into a multi-purpose space to promote unity among the people through history.
Its design, geared toward sensitizing visitors, will include modern technology, and feature a model of the provincial capital. Meanwhile, its general content will allow visitors to learn about the city’s culture, architecture, science, and social development. As such, function rooms for different kinds of conferences, concerts, expositions, and other events that contribute to human enrichment, will be created.
Hirán, a defender of the material and spiritual elements which make up the region’s identity, is calling for greater support from the population to combat acts of social indiscipline which threaten the renovation works, and is also requesting that the municipal government rigorously apply public behavior ordinances and those related to the protection of patrimony.
According to the outstanding historian, the Historic Network of Plazas of the City of Holguín, a unique component of Cuba’s architectural heritage, must be defended with passion. / Granma