Santa Clara is the capital city of the Cuban province of Villa Clara. It is located in the most central region of the province and almost in the most central region of the country. With a population near a quarter million, Santa Clara is the 5th largest Cuban city by population.
Santa Clara was founded by 175 people on July 15, 1689. 138 of them were represented by two large families already living in the area and, therefore, owners of the land next to the new city. The other 37 came from seven other families, and included a priest and a governor, all originating in the coastal city of San Juan de los Remedios (also known as Remedios, Cuba).
The population of Remedios was torn between the option of leaving their city, constantly besieged by pirate attacks, or staying in place. While most finally decided to stay, these 37 persons travelled south to the interior. On June 1, 1689 they arrived at the hill where they joined the other two existing families. According to tradition, a mass was given under a tamarind tree and the city was founded. Since then, the place under the tree is known as Loma Del Carmen (Carmen’s Hill). A second-generation church was built in a park along the plaza. A monument commemorating the event is surrounded by a fourth-generation tamarind tree.
At its beginnings, the settlement was called Cayo Nuevo, then Dos Cayos, Villa Nueva de Santa Clara, Pueblo Nuevo de Antón Díaz, Villa Clara, and finally Santa Clara.
Construction of the city began not far from Carmen’s Hill. Following the Spanish standards, a perfect squared layout with a central plaza (Plaza Mayor, today known as Parque Vidal) was developed. The first buildings erected were the Cabildo (City Council) and a modest palm tree church. This building was replaced in 1725 with a brick one. It was at the centre of the Parque Vidal as Catedral de Santa Clara de Asís until August 22, 1923. It was torn down so that the plaza could be expanded. A new church was built nearby. This decision by the mayor is still criticised nearly a century later. Although the church was not the finest architecture, it was one of the oldest colonial structures in the city and part of its fabric. After the expropriation by the mayor and City Council, religious officials complained and the court awarded 77,850 pesos in fines as a settlement to the Church. It was a considerable sum that would represent millions of pesos today.
Soon after the city was founded, a theatre, a chamber of commerce, meeting clubs, public libraries and dance halls were erected as well. Positioned nearly in the centre of the country, the city became a popular traveller’s stop and a great communication link, both east-west and north-south. These conditions supported its steady growth. By the 19th century, Santa Clara was bigger and more populated than the rest of the towns around, including what was once Remedios. As a necessary stop between Havana and the east of the country, the city gained the title of capital of Las Villas province.