by Raul Menchaca
REMEDIOS, Cuba, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Remedios, one of Cuba's oldest cities about 320 km east of Havana and steeped in history and legends of pilgrims and pirates,is being groomed as the island's new tourism destination.
Founded in early 16th century by the Spaniards, the city of 45,000 residents came into focus Sunday, the last day of the 38th International Tourism Fair.
Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero presided over the opening of a 25-room hotel in the city, saying, "The jewels of our culture and heritage are coming back to life."
The government aims to promote "sustainable tourism", Marrero said, adding that the city's hotel infrastructure, comprising six hotels, will be expanded with a new hotel coming up in a few months.
"We will continue to grow" as well as respect "the history behind the facades of these buildings," Marrero said, inaugurating the Bausa Hotel, a meticulously preserved building featuring the original floors and decorative work on ceilings and walls.
The town hosts a singular feature at its central square built to honor a national hero, Jose Marti. There are two Catholic churches facing each other.
Legend says the first church was built at the site of a slave residence while the second houses one of the only eight known images of a pregnant Virgin Mary.
Pirate lore is another attraction of Remedios. Historians have chronicled successive pirate attacks on the city and French writer Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin mentions Remedios in his book "The History of the Buccaneers of America".
Besides legends, charming colonial-era architecture and landmarks such as the majestic Statue of Liberty, the only one in Cuba, are the other attractions promoted by the local authorities.
Inaugurated at the beginning of the 20th century to remember the country's martyrs, the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of Cuba's freedom from colonial rule.