Valle De Los Ingenios Y Torre Manaca-Iznaga
Situated about 12 kilometres outside of Trinidad’s historic centre, El Valle de los Ingenios, or the Valley of the Sugar Mills, was the centre of Cuba’s sugar industry from the late 18th century until the late 19th century. The region is actually comprised of three distinct interconnected valleys covering roughly 270 square kilometres. The landscape itself is stunning, marked by rolling green hills, low maize fields, and small patches of forest. Mountains loom in the background, creating a truly picturesque scene. However, most visitors make the jaunt into this beautiful valley for an up-close look at the fascinating history of the Cuban sugar industry.
The Spanish first introduced sugarcane to Cuba in 1512. The climate and soil proved perfect for sugarcane cultivation, while easy port access ensured that it could be easily exported. All factors aligned perfectly, and sugar quickly became an important export commodity. The sheer size of the sugar industry was daunting, and the country went on to become one of the world’s most important producers of sugar. At the Cuban sugar industry’s peak, there were over 70 sugar mills operating in the valleys. These mills, and the sugar plantations that surrounded them, employed over 30,000 slaves.
When the slave trade was made illegal following Cuba’s independence, the once-thriving sugar industry fell into ruin. The vast majority of the valley’s sugar mills are now decrepit. However, several have been well preserved.
The Manaca-Iznaga Tower
The Manaca-Iznaga plantation is well worth a visit and one of the best-preserved sugar mills and plantations in the region. The owner’s house, a 45-metre 19th century bell tower, and the original slave quarters are still standing. The home itself has been converted into a restaurant, and the bell tower, known as Torre Manaca-Iznaga, is especially well preserved. Once the tallest structure in all of Cuba, it was intended to symbolize the plantation owner’s prestige and power and is now an iconic landmark in the region. It was made to observe and control the slaves.
The impressive bell now rests at the tower’s foot so guests can get an up-close look. The plantation is best reached via car or planned excursions from Trinidad. Nevertheless, the train ride is an adventure in and of itself, and the train’s engines actually date back to the early 20th century. Take in the lush rolling hills from inside your train car as you prepare to take a trip back into the past and experience the glory and splendour of the Trinidad sugar industry.
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