On December 8, 1812 the residents of this region attended the first Mass celebrated on the banks of the river, they were far from imagining that ceremony would mark not only the entrance of the villa into the concert of the civilized world, but also the takeoff of an entire region which, since then, would shape its identity, very personal, that distinguish it into the national scene.
Although the Spanish crown took until this year to register its birth in the books, this area had already achieved notoriety several centuries earlier, when the timbers of its forests were used in the construction of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, in Spain, and pirates abounded in the mouth of the river, where they anchored their ships.
However, the real take-off of the Villa de la Purisima Concepcion de Sagua la Grande took place during the golden age of sugar, the boom in a number of plantations that spread up to the limits of the next jurisdiction.
From those years marked by the mill and the runaway slave, it still survives the smell of molasses in the belly of its unique sugar mill, the insistent bagasse particles that rain over the few houses of the Sitiecito village and several miles around, and the memory then prosperity stamped on the facades of its iconic construction.
On the banks of the river that poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido) called it El Undoso (The waving one) on a visit he made to the city, in those banks which were emaciated by successive floods saw the light essential personalities of Cuban culture: the eminent urologist Joaquin Albarran, one of the most renowned intellectuals-though controversial-of the Republic; the writer and philosopher Jorge Manach Robato, author of the famous essay Indagación al choteo; the musician Antonio Machin, an interpreter who immortalized anthological hits of Cuban musical repertoire; and the most universal painter of Cuba, Wifredo Lam, an artist who knew how to synthesize into his work the most deeply rooted essences of Cuban identity.
Beyond its streets designed in almost perfect squares, beyond its illustrious sons and its aura of debtor city of nineteenth-century splendor, which identifies the most this place over north-central Cuba is its river, the waterway that begins in Guamuhaya Mountains, winding through small villages and rural areas and through the city before getting into the sea in the area of Isabela de Sagua. Just at this mouth it grew a port through which inhabitants used to export sugar in the nineteenth century and today it has become the perfect place for fishing the most exotic marie species. If Ernest Hemingway hadn’t planted his flag on the shores of Cojimar, The Old Man and the Sea would have been written in the keys near Isabela de Sagua.
El Undoso, however, has flooded areas close to its course, to the point that in 1894 and 1906 the waters rose more than a meter in the very center of the park. After the construction of the dam which would regulate floods in 1908, and the Alacranes reservoir, second in capacity in Cuba, the river has kept frightening those who dwell on its margins but not with such an overwhelming power. The most recent flooding, last October, entered homes, destroyed crops and fueled the fantasies of those who still believe in guijes and madres de agua, two of the legends that abound in the region.
By these days the city is delighted, not so much because of the restoration, which has taken longer than the restoration common practices advise, but by the blessing of having reached the two centuries old attached to it most essential traditions: the taste for the fine arts, the scientific inquiry, the Afro-Cuban religions.
This city celebrates on December 8th the two centuries of existence since the first settlers decided to draw streets, and raise squares and houses as God commands, and they also celebrate a year since the historic center of the city was given the status of National Monument under its architectural and sociocultural values.
Hence it is that another reason to celebrate this Saturday, when about 60 000 inhabitants of Sagua la Grande will celebrate the gift of permanence and the drumbeats announce the centuries the city will remain on the skin of the world .