Cuba // Varadero, Matanzas and Mayabeque //


About three blocks north from the Plaza de la Vigía, over the Puente de la Concordia, which spans the Río Yumurí, is the almost exclusively residential Versalles district. Few visitors to the city choose to explore this area and those who do are usually heading for the Hershey train terminal or, in an industrial zone on the north face of the bay, the Castillo de San Severino fort and its Museo de la Ruta de los Esclavos.

Constructed in 1734, the Castillo de San Severino fort is based around a wide open central square and surrounded by a now-empty moat. With imposing, thick stone walls and broad ramparts, where three cannon still stand, this was the principal structure in the local colonial defence system, once guarding Matanzas from pirates intent on plundering the substantial wealth of the city. It functioned as a prison in the latter part of the nineteenth century but stood derelict thereafter, though hearsay has it that right up until the late 1970s political prisoners of the revolutionary regime were locked up inside. It now houses the Museo de la Ruta de los Esclavos. The limited displays on slavery and the slave trade reflect the fort’s one-time use as a storage unit for slaves unloaded from boats on the coast below, many of them destined for nearby sugar plantations.

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