Santa Ifigenia Cemetery
Like its counterpart in Havana (the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón), the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, to the west of Santiago de Cuba, represents a resume of Cuba's political, revolutionary and cultural history.
It was originally built in 1868 to accommodate the victims of both a yellow fever outbreak and the War of Independence. In fact, among the 8000-odd tombs are the fallen of both sides in that war: 11 of the 31 Cuban generals are buried here, alongside the Spanish soldiers who died in the battles of San Juan Hill and Caney.
Cuba's National Hero - José Martí
The most revered resident, and the one with the most impressive tomb, is José Martí (1853-1895), who also fell in the War of Independence. As well as being a national political hero (he was instrumental in the achievement of independence from Spain), he was also a celebrated writer and poet. His mausoleum is an impressive marble structure, within which his casket is permanently draped with the Cuban flag. It receives sunlight from all sides, reflecting a comment Martí is said to have made that he would not die as a traitor in darkness, but facing the sun. Even more eye-catching than the edifice, however, is the half-hourly spectacle of the changing of the guard, complete with the pomp and piped military music a national hero deserves!
Heroes of Independence and Revolution
Those who know their Cuban history might like to find the grave of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, known as the father of Cuban independence. On the theme of national heroes, both the widow (María Grajales) and mother (Mariana Grajales) of another independence champion, Antonio Maceo, are also buried here. If you want to see the grave of the "Bronze Titan" himself, though, you'll have to join the hordes of Cuban pilgrims to the Monumento El Cacahual, south of Havana.
More recent revolutionary history has also left its mark at Santa Ifigenia. A number of the 'martyrs' from the 1953 attack on the nearby Moncada Barracks are buried here, as are Frank and José País, activists of Fidel Castro's M-26-7 movement.
As well as those paying homage to Cuba's military and revolutionary past, the Santa Ifigenia cemetery attracts its fair share of musical pilgrims. Compay Segundo (1907–2003), who found fame in later life in Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club and is credited with a global revival of Cuban music, is buried here. His grave features a guitar and his trademark fedora. Other musical greats buried here include Pepe Sánchez, inventor of the 'trova' musical style and Olga Guillot, known as the "Queen of Bolero".
Finally, members of some of Cuba's great families are also found here, including Emilio Bacardí-Moreau, of the famous rum dynasty.
Cementerio Santa Ifigenia is a long walk from the city but is easily reached by private transfer or horse cart. Even for those less interested in the history, it's a peaceful place of reflection which is yet, somehow, quintessentially Cuban.
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Christopher Columbus Cemetery (or Cementerio de Colon in Spanish) is generally recognised as the most historically and architecturally important cemetery in Latin America. Home to over a million interred bodies including politicians, musicians, writers, artists, military heroes, and religious figures from both Cuba and around the world, this landmark of the Vedado neighbourhood is worth a visit for any culturally- or historically-inclined traveller.
Two young members of the Sarra family emigrated from Spain to seek their fortune in the Cuban colony. The museum at the Drogueria Sarra charts their huge success as they and their descendent created a pharma business, which by the turn of the 20th century was the second biggest worldwide.
For visitors interested in Cuba's history, Chorro de Maita is a popular day excursion from nearby Holguin and the resorts of Guardalavaca. The archaeological site, reconstructed Taino village and museum offer a vivid insight into the lives of indigenous Cubans around the early years of the Spanish colonisation.
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