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Museum of the Slave Route preserves African legacy
The Museum of the Slave Route, located in Matanzas, city 100 km east of Havana, is an institution created by local authorities to preserve the contributions of the African continent to our country.
Declared a National Monument of the Republic in 1978, the Castle of San Severino, an 18th-century Spanish military fort, houses the Museum, a UNESCO project that has been developed since 1994. At that time, the UN agency called on the international community to deepen its knowledge on the genesis, development and impact of slavery, and to advocate the safeguarding of elements that testify to Africas influence.San Severino is a Renaissance-style military complex typical of the Spanish system of forts built throughout the Americas in the 18th century.
The fortress was built in a place called Punta La Gorda, located on the left bank of this 300-year-old citys bay. Matanzas is the capital of the province of the same name.According to official records, on October 13, 1693, the first stone was placed to build the fort, which was completed in 1746. Its structure features a wrought-iron gate, a drawbridge, and surrounding moats.A PROPERTY WITH UNIQUE VALUES
Marks scratched into stones by slaves to account for and justify to their masters the days work are still visible.

According to historian Tamara Blanes, an expert on Antillean forts, that particular feature makes the Castle "unique in the Caribbean."

"There is no other fort in the region like this one, with a testimonial feature of such magnitude and such originality that it requires study, work and above all preservation on the part of experts," she affirmed.

Blanes considers the San Severino to be one of the most representative of this geographic area, typical of its era in design, architecture and military technique.

Researches say that the Castle was the most important enclave of the Matanzas defense belt, which comprises three other complexes and was designed to protect the area from corsair and pirate attacks.

They note its different historical values; for example, its cells once held prisoners who were national liberation heroes of the 19th and 20th centuries. Architecturally, its original structure is almost intact.


The western province of Matanzas was considered a sugar empire, particularly in the 19th century, and held a large number of slave plantations, which is why the African presence is very strong in this part of Cuba.

According to experts, the slave trade marked an interrelationship between the African, American and European continents, via the violent and massive movement of African peoples as slaves, bringing with it an influence of values and traditions.

Experts consulted consider it difficult to calculate the demographic total of Africans brought to Cuba, and estimate 1.3 million, a figure that speaks to the economic, social, biological and cultural impact.


San Severinos top floor features two galleries and an information center, while its lower floor was modified in the 19th century to function as a prison.

An archeological gallery features valuable specimens from the 18th and 19th centuries, found in the surrounding area in excavations made during restoration work.

The objects range from crockery and hand-decorated pots, to buttons made of mother-of-pearl and bone, to ceramics and epaulettes for artillerymens uniforms. They also include chamber pots, wine and gin bottles, cannon shot, work tools, locks, ironwork, medicine bottles, candlesticks, inkwells, jewelry and pitchers.

One interesting detail is the presence of pipes, both in Catalonian and English styles.

But what most attracts visitors attention is the permanent exhibition on Orishas, or African deities, who represent natural forces and phenomena, as well as human activities, emotions and passions.

These gods, who thanks to the processes of transculturation and syncretism, are part of Cuban popular religiosity, are an important part of Africas legacy, present in Cubas cultural formation and development.

As if to bless both the faithful and secular, one finds Elegguá, who symbolizes destiny and the unexpected, and who opens up and closes all paths; Yemayá, goddess of the waters and maternity; and Changó, god of thunder and lightning, masculine joy and virility.

There are also amazing works that represent Ochún, goddess of the river, love,

sensuality and feminine joy; and Oyá, the warrior goddess of winds and thunder, who governs the cemetery.

Matanzas, a Cuban province with cultural, monumental and living riches, cultivates its legacy from the African continent with a wide range of songs, dances and religious rituals.

Source: By Wilfredo Alayón, Granma Internacional

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