By Raul Menchaca
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- The house of the "Adelantado" and first governor of Cuba, the Spanish Diego Velazquez, is the oldest in Cuba and one of the oldest in Latin America, while serving as a unique museum of Cuban History.
The old building, erected between 1516 and 1530, is located on one of the sides of the quadrangle formed by the old Plaza de Armas in the city of Santiago de Cuba. Today, this square hosts the centric Cespedes Park and is a mainstay of city life.
Curious visitors approach this house of Moorish inspiration in search of the history of Velazquez, who died in 1524 after founding several of the first colonial cities on the island, including Santiago de Cuba in 1515.
The house had an uncertain destiny and passed from hand to hand until historian Francisco Prat Puig, a Spaniard living in Santiago de Cuba, started a campaign to restore it and set up the museum in 1970.
"This is a property of great importance because of its age," says the director of the museum, Leisys Maria Yaquet, a disciple of Prat.
According to historians, letters sent by Velazquez to the Spanish court in 1519 prove the existence of the property at such an early date.
The specialist said that the embrasure located in the oldest area of the building reveals Velazquez lived there, as such a type of defensive window was authorized by the crown to the so-called "Adelantado," a title given those carrying out royal missions.
The embrasure, located in a corner of the second floor where the Spanish conqueror is believed to have slept, faces south, overlooking the nearby bay, and lending a military air to the property.
This house-fortress once held the House of Contract, an entity of the crown controlling the trade between Spain and Cuba, and was used to cast gold, including a furnace to process the ore extracted from the mines of the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains.
The interiors are also preserved, made up with lime, stone and earth, wooden columns fastened with lead pins, as well as some fragments of the original roofing.
The museum is visited by 500 people a day on average, and retains elements of the original carpentry and its large windows allow to see the passers-by outside.
"The relevance of this museum is given by its historical meaning since it was the place where Governor Diego Velazquez de Cuellar lived and ruled, and from a cultural point of view, it is a genuine exponent of Moorish architecture in Cuba," says Yaquet.
Its rooms offer a chronology of colonial art, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, which allows visitors to understand the evolution of interior decoration across Cuban history.
The singular house has withstood the passage of time to leave a physical evidence of the footprint of the Spanish times on the island, and allows a glimpse at the historical relationship between Havana and Madrid.