Pinar del Rio
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 is the 5th largest Cuban city by population.
Santa Clara was founded by 175 people on July 15, 1689. One hundred and thirty-eight 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 7 other families, a priest and a governor, all of them originating in the coastal city of “San Juan de los Remedios”.
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 Parque Vidal) was developed. The first buildings erected were the Cabildo (City Council) and a modest palm tree church. This building was enhanced in 1725 to a brick one, and stayed the center of the Parque Vidal until August 22, 1923 when it was torn down in order to expand the plaza and build a new church close by. Back then, and still nowadays, this decision, taken by the mayor, was highly criticized. The building, while not a gem of architecture, was not entirely unpleasant to the eye and certainly an example of the older colonial structure in the city. Resulting from this expropriation by the City Council, a complaint was raised by religious figures and a total of 77 850.00 pesos were paid in fines to the Church, a considerable sum that would represent millions of pesos today.
Soon after the foundation, a theater, a chamber of commerce, meeting clubs, public libraries and dance halls were erected as well. The position of the city, almost in the very center of the country, made it as a perfect halt and a great communication link, east-west and north-south, creating a slow but unstoppable 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 Las Villas province capital.
Santa Clara was the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution in late 1958. There were two guerrilla columns that attacked the city, one led by Ernesto Che Guevara and the other led by Camilo Cienfuegos. Guevara's column first captured the garrison at Fomento. Then, using a bulldozer, Guevara's soldiers destroyed railroad tracks and derailed a train full of troops and supplies sent by Batista. At the same time, Cienfuegos's column defeated an army garrison at the Battle of Yaguajay not far from town. On December 31, 1958, the combined forces of Guevara and Cienfuegos (along with other revolutionaries under William Alexander Morgan) attacked Santa Clara. The battle was chaotic, the defenders were demoralized, some fought, others surrendered without a shot. By the afternoon, the city was captured. This victory for Castro's troops is seen as the decisive moment in the Cuban Revolution as Batista fled Cuba less than 12 hours later.