First Settlements founded
Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Baracoa
Baracoa was discovered by Admiral Christopher Columbus during his first voyage, on 27th November 1492. He was forced by bad weather to remain there for several days. On Saturday 1st December he formally took possession of the area in the name of the Spanish crown, erecting a cross as related by Brother las Casas: ‘…he placed a large cross at the entrance of that port, which I believe he called Porto Santo…’. The Viceroy of Hispaniola was at the time Diego Columbus, the Admiral’s son; it was he who was to send Diego Velásquez to conquer and populate the island of Cuba, for the accomplishment of which he had to vanquish the indigenous resistance organised by Chief Hatuey.
The first settlement was founded on the shores of a natural harbour on the north coast, known by the Indians as Baracoa. At some point between 1510 and 1511 the Spanish dubbed it Our Lady of the Assumption. Friar Bartolomé de las Casas petitioned the king to dissolve the settlement on the grounds of ill-treatment of the Indians, but this did not take place since Baracoa was only Spanish settlement established in the island for a period of approximately three years. It was the only settlement with a town council building and a church, so it was considered the first capital of the island until its founder, Diego Velazquez, established himself in Santiago.
In 1516 Baracoa was confirmed as archbishopric of the island in a papal bull issued by Leon X, and it preserved that status until Pope Adrian VI authorised the transfer of the privilege to Santiago on 8th May 1523.
Don Diego Velásquez, lived in Baracoa until 4th October 1513 and it was from this port that Francisco de Morales and Pánfilo de Narváez departed, on his orders, to colonise the rest of the island.
Her Majesty the Queen bestowed its coat of arms upon the city in 1538.
Guama, the Indian chief of the area, is still famous for his efforts to liberate the indigenous people from the Spanish yoke.
Baracoa is the only settlement which has remained in the same place since it was founded.
It was proclaimed a national Mmnument on 4th November 1978 by Dr. Antonio Núñez Jiménez.
San Salvador de Bayamo
Founded in November 1513 beside a bay and later transferred to the place it currently occupies. It is here that the struggle for our freedom was begun, with the cry of ‘Liberty or Death’ given by the Father of the Homeland Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.
Founded in January 1514, according to Diego Velásquez, some leagues from the port of Jagua, on the banks of the River Arimao. A few months later it was moved to the place in which it has remained ever since, near the port of Casilda, in accord with a Royal Decree approving the change, received by the governor in December 1514. This is the best remaining example of colonial city, for which reason it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Founded in 1514, in the place which was believed to be the centre of the island. Shortly afterwards it was moved to the banks of the River Yayabo, its current site.
Santa Maria de Puerto Príncipe (now Camagüey)
Founded in the northern part of the current province of Camagüey. Soon afterwards in 1516 it was moved to the Indian village of Caonao until 1528-1530 when it was again relocated on the banks of the River Tinima where it has remained until our times. Today it is referred to as the city of the Tinajones (large clay water jars).
Santiago de Cuba
Discovered by the Admiral during his second voyage on 14th March 1494. It was founded in July 1515 on the western side of the bay, but a year afterwards it was transferred to the eastern side. In 1517 it was given a coat of arms and in 1522 the bishopric was located in this settlement, which obtained the title of city by Royal Decree on 28th April 1523.
It in stands the sanctuary of the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre, Patron Saint of Cuba, the Cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, which holds the remains of our Apostle of Independence José Julián Martí Pérez together with those of other notable patriots, and the Castle of San Pedro de La Roca, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
San Cristóbal de La Habana
Founded on the south coast, whence it was transferred in 1516 to the northern coast near the River Chorrera (Almendares); from there it moved to the port of Carenas, where the current city was founded. In 1553 it was ceated third and final capital of the island.
Since the end of the seventeenth century the 16th November has been celebrated as the day of its foundation, according to the historian of the city Eusebio Leal. Owing to the strategic advantages possessed by Havana in the context of the establishment of maritime trade routes and the corresponding fortification of the port, by Royal Decree on 16th June 1561 it was given the title of Key of the New World. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 14th December 1982.
These were not the only settlements founded by the conquistadors of Cuba. El Cayo or La Savana (now San Juan de Remedios), in the northern part of the central zone, was laid out at the same time as or very shortly after Trinidad and Santi Spíritus, but it had no town council and was not given the official title of Town until over half a century later, a fact referred to by Bishop Diego Sarmiento in his account of his 1544 visit.