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  • Writer's pictureThe Rivers School

March 13: Day trip to Matanzas, Tour of San Severino Castle

Today we left Havana for a day trip to Matanzas, an important historical site located about 75 miles outside of Havana. 

Our first stop was the San Severino Castle and Museum of the Slave Route, which is located inside the monument. Now a museum and historic site, the castle was originally a fortress built as a safeguard against an attack on Havana during the Spanish colonial era, with work starting in 1693 and continuing to 1745. In these times, Cuba occupied an important strategic stop for many ships trading between the Caribbean and Europe and was also a pivotal stop in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The castle was destroyed in the 18th century to keep it out of British hands and was later rebuilt with the labor of enslaved people. Later, it became a prison and a site of torture for former slaves who fought for freedom and an end to the practice of slavery. The fort became a museum in 1998 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Inside were exhibits displaying maps, objects, and contemporary art in a variety of media reflecting on the trans-Atlantic slave route. One of the featured artists in the museum was on hand to offer further explanation and context.

Continuing to broaden our understanding of Afro-Cuban heritage, we enjoyed a performance by musicians and dancers evoking the deities or orishas of the Santería religion. The dancers wore colorful costumes embodying the deities, and we were invited to join in the dancing! As one of the guides at San Severino said, “We are very proud to have bands that can keep the African roots in our country alive.” 

Later on, we took a short walking tour of the city of Matanzas, often called the “city of bridges,” which is home and inspiration to many artists. We saw a lot of sculptures on the street along the shoreline walk.  

Along the way to and from Matanzas, we stopped for delicious non-alcoholic piña coladas to quench our thirst in the heat. It has been sunny and warm here for the duration of our trip. As is common throughout the country, there was a live music band playing some of the Cuban classics we have been getting to know this week. 

We are also gaining a great understanding of Cuban history. The drive via bus took us along the coastline, where we saw oil rigs and railroads. Cuba’s railroads, our tour guide shared with us, were built even before those in Spain and were instrumental when the sugarcane industry was at its peak. 

Tomorrow, we will have another master class with an expert musician, Aisar.


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