Just over 40km northeast of Santa Clara and less than 10km from the coast, the town of REMEDIOS sits unobtrusively near the beach resort on the northern cays, and remains comparatively unexploited. The faded paintwork and terracotta roofs of the generally modest, still-lived-in colonial buildings, as well as the noticeable absence of modern constructions around the centre, reflect a town that lived on the periphery of modern Cuba until relatively recently. Remedios has now established its place on the visitor map, and is commonly used by tourists as a base for or a stopoff on the way to the nearby beach resort on the cays. On (or within shouting distance) of the central Plaza Martí, the town’s modest sights provide no more than a few hours of sightseeing, but its superb and reasonably priced hotels, appealing and abundant casas particulares and friendly atmosphere make it well worth a stopover. This sleepy place does, however, explode into live every Christmas when Las Parrandas, the festival for which the town is best known among Cubans, takes place.
One of the oldest towns in Cuba, founded shortly after the establishment of the seven villas, Remedios has a history rivalling that of Trinidad and Santa Clara, going back as far as the 1520s. Today’s provincial capital was, in fact, founded by citizens of Remedios who, following a series of pirate attacks towards the end of the sixteenth century, transplanted the settlement further inland. The local populace was far from united in its desire to desert Remedios, however, and in an attempt to force the issue, those who wanted to leave burnt the town to the ground. Rebuilt from the ashes, by 1696 the town had its own civic council and went on to produce not only one of Cuba’s most renowned composers, Alejandro García Caturla, but also a Spanish president, Dámaso Berenguer Fuste, who governed Spain in the 1930s.Read More
Once a year, on the night of December 24, usually sedate Remedios erupts into organized anarchy during Las Parrandas, a 200-year-old tradition which originated in the town and has spread throughout the province and beyond. Since the end of the nineteenth century there have been annual parrandas in neighbouring towns like Camajuani, Zulueta and Caibarién, but the one in Remedios remains the biggest and the best. In the days building up to the main event the streets around the plaza fill up with market stalls and the town becomes overrun with visitors. For the festival itself, Remedios divides into northern and southern halves, with the frontier running through the centre of Plaza Martí: north is the San Salvador neighbourhood, whose emblem is an eagle on a blue background, and south is the Carmen neighbourhood, represented by a rooster on a red background. The opposing sides mark their territory with huge static constructions (which look like floats but are in fact stationary), known as trabajos de plaza, whose extravagant designs change annually, each one built to be more spectacular than the last. The celebrations kick off around 4pm, when the whole town gathers in the plaza to drink, dance, shout and sing. Artilleros, the fireworks experts, set off hundreds of eardrum-popping firecrackers until the square is shrouded in an acrid pall of black smoke and people can hardly see. Following that, the revellers form huge, pulsing congas and traipse around the square for hours, cheering their own team and chanting insulting songs at their rivals. The neighbourhoods’ avian symbols appear on a sea of waving banners, flags, staffs, placards and bandanas tied around their citizens’ necks.
As night falls, the two large floats, the carrozas, which along with the trabajos de plaza form the focus of the celebrations, do a ceremonial round of the plaza. Built to represent their respective halves of Remedios, the floats are fantastical creations with multicoloured decorations and flashing lights forming intricate patterns. Constructed by the town’s resident population of parrandas fanatics, who devote the majority of their free time throughout the year to designing and creating them, the floats are judged by the rest of the town on looks and originality. As everyone makes up their minds, a massive fireworks display illuminates the sky and further heightens the tension. Finally, in the early morning hours, the church bell is ceremoniously rung and the winner announced. The president of the winning neighbourhood is then triumphantly paraded around on his jubilant team’s shoulders before everyone heads home to recover, enjoy Christmas and start planning the next year’s festivities.