Prior to 1976, the current provinces of Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, and Villa Clara Province were all part of the now obsolete province of Las Villas, but Villa Clara is still referred some times just as “Las Villas” using the shorter old name. Santa Clara was the capital of historical Las Villas and still the capital of Villa Clara province. That old name itself, Spanish for “The Cities”, refers to the four original 16th and 17th-century cities founded in this vast territory: San Juan de Los Remedios, Sancti Spíritus, Santísima Trinidad and Gloriosa Santa Clara.
During pre-Spanish settlement in Cuba, what now is Villa Clara province was populated by Taíno people with chieftains of Sabanaque (north-west), Sabana (northeast), and Cubanacan, literally “The Middle Land” in the centre where Santa Clara city is located nowadays. In this region from the eastern landing point of the Spanish was where Columbus believed the “King of India” was living.
In early colonial Cuba, historical province Las Villas was centre to cattle industry but by the 18th and 19th centuries, it had shifted to sugar production with a large concentration of mills. At the beginning of the 20th century, it had the highest percentage of land farms (90%). In 1950 it was second to Havana in manufacturing establishments.
After Castro’s revolution in the 1960s, it still led in sugar production on the island, but in the late 80s and 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and lack of support thereof, most of the already inefficient mills were closed down, some of them disassembled, while others became museums. Only the most efficient mills are still producing sugar. Since then the province concentrated its efforts on building beach resorts.
Villa Clara Cays
Villa Clara Cays, located approximately 300 km from Havana, are part of the Jardines del Rey archipelago, the largest archipelago surrounding Cuba which extends 465 km along the northern coast of the country.
A site of legends, it is said that this island, maze of singular biodiversity, was once a haven for pirates and buccaneers ready to pounce on a ship passing along Cuba’s shores.
Cayo Las Brujas takes its name from an old legend about a young couple whose love was thwarted by a jealous uncle, who in turn is the namesake of another islet: Cayo Borracho, which means drunkard. The remains of the San Pascual, a ship that ran aground many years ago, can be observed a mile away from the cay. Built-in San Francisco, California and launched in 1919, the ship evokes the presence of American writer Ernest Hemingway in the area. From its deck, Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach found inspiration for some of his famous marine landscapes.
Cayo Ensenachos is the smallest of the three cays but is a refuge for 22 endemic plants and 39 wildlife species. Shaped like a horseshoe, the islet was originally an aboriginal settlement. The beach is always calm due to the position of the cay which prevents the large waves from hitting the shore with force.
Cayo Santa María is also known as the White Rose of Jardines del Rey. The cay was named after the flagship of Christopher Columbus’s fleet on his maiden voyage to the New World. Legend has it that this strip of land -some 13 km long and 2 km in width – is said to be haunted by the spirit of Rosa Maria Coraje, a woman who hid aboard a ship in a desperate attempt to find both paradise and her beloved. She landed on the cay and managed to survive hiding in the marshes, among the mangroves and feeding on fish, until she finally discovered her dearly-loved in a neighbouring cay.
Around the province
Around Santa Clara, the land rises into the Alturas de Santa Clara. The highest point in the Santa Clara region is in the Alturas, at 464 m (1,522 ft) above sea level, while the south, dominated by the Escambray Mountains, reach elevations of over 900 m (3,000 ft). Villa Clara also has numerous lakes, which are used for both water sports and fishing. The largest Cuban river to drain into the Atlantic, Río Sagua la Grande, is also in Villa Clara province.
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