Santa Clara is the capital city of the Cuban province of Villa Clara. It is located in the most central region of the province and almost in the most central region of the country. With a population of circa 220,000 is the 5th Cuban city by population.
Santa Clara was founded by 175 people on July 15, 1689. One hundred and thirty-eight of them were represented by two large families already living in the area and, therefore, owners of the land next to the new city. The other 37 came from 7 other families, a priest and a governor, all of them originating in the coastal city of “San Juan de los Remedios”.
The population of Remedios was torn between the option of leaving their city, constantly besieged by pirate attacks, or staying in place. While most of them finally decided to stay, these 37 persons traveled south and, on June 1, 1689 they arrived to the hill where they rejoined the other two existing families. A mass was given under a supposed Tamarind tree and the city was born. Since then, the place under the tree is known as “Loma Del Carmen” (Carmen’s Hill). A second generation church exists in a beautiful park along the place with a monument commemorating the event surrounded by a fourth generation Tamarind tree.
At its beginnings, the settlement was called Cayo Nuevo, then Dos Cayos, Villa Nueva de Santa Clara, Pueblo Nuevo de Antón Díaz, Villa Clara and finally Santa Clara.
Construction of the city began not far from Carmen’s Hill. Following the Spanish standards, a perfect squared layout with a central plaza (Plaza Mayor today Parque Vidal) was developed. The first buildings erected were the Cabildo (City Council) and a modest palm tree church. This building was enhanced in 1725 to a brick one, and stayed the center of the Parque Vidal until August 22, 1923 when it was torn down in order to expand the plaza and build a new church close by. Back then, and still nowadays, this decision, taken by the mayor, was highly criticized. The building, while not a gem of architecture, was not entirely unpleasant to the eye and certainly an example of the older colonial structure in the city. Resulting from this expropriation by the City Council, a complaint was raised by religious figures and a total of 77 850.00 pesos were paid in fines to the Church, a considerable sum that would represent millions of pesos today.
Soon after the foundation, a theater, a chamber of commerce, meeting clubs, public libraries and dance halls were erected as well. The position of the city, almost in the very center of the country, made it as a perfect halt and a great communication link, east-west and north-south, creating a slow but unstoppable growth. By the 19th century, Santa Clara was bigger and more populated than the rest of the towns around, including what was once Remedios. As a necessary stop between Havana and the east of the country, the city gained the title of Las Villas province capital.