Declared a national monument in 1996, Parque Vidal is the geographical, social and cultural nucleus of Santa Clara. A spacious, traditional, pedestrianized and always crowded town square, it exudes a vivacious atmosphere. Weekends are particularly animated, with live music performances on the central bandstand in the evenings, and on the porch of the ornate Casa de la Cultura. The square’s attractive core, a paved circular promenade laced with towering palms and shrub-peppered lawns, is traversed by shoppers and workers throughout the day and, in the evenings, fills up with young and old alike, when music is often piped through speakers in the lampposts.
Parque Vidal is elegantly framed by a mixture of predominantly colonial and neo-colonial buildings, the grandest of which is the Palacio Provincial on the northeastern side, once the seat of the local government and now home to the Biblioteca José Martí. Built between 1904 and 1912, its wide facade, featuring two bold porticoes, stands out as the square’s most classical piece of architecture. There are occasional musical performances in the fabulous concert room – check the board at the entrance for details.
On the northwest side of Parque Vidal is the Museo de Artes Decorativas, featuring furniture and objets d’art spanning four centuries of style, from Renaissance to Art Deco. Each of the eleven rooms is opulently furnished, with most of the exhibits collected from houses around Santa Clara; some of them appear as they might have been when the building – older than most of its neighbours but of no particular architectural merit in itself – was home to a string of aristocratic families during the colonial period. In addition to the front room, with its marvellous crystal chandelier, there is a dining room with a fully laid table, a bedroom with an ostentatiously designed wardrobe and individual pieces like the stunning seventeenth-century bureau with ivory detailing.