Sitios de Memoria
  Valle de Viņales
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View from the slate

The Valley of Viñales, located in the province of Pinar del Río, the most western part of the Island of Cuba, is considered a symbol of Cuban landscapes, especially because of its peculiar and unique limestone formations, of its peculiar centuries-old systems of agricultural production, such as tobacco.

From a geo-morphological point of view, the valley is made up of contact marginal polja holding calcareous residues inside, the so-called mogotes, with a number of caves created by streams and lime corrosion that follow the line of tectonic weakness running through carbonated and metamorphic rocks.
The geological traits of the area are the main cause for these frequent formations. In the geological configuration there are many deposits that, taking their age into account, must have developed between the Lower Jurassic and the present stage. The Valley has elevations known as Alturas de Pizarras, formed by the oldest rocks in Cuba, as well as the mogotes of the Sierra de los Órganos, geomorphologic limestone formations extremely unique on the planet.

The first inhabitants in Viñales were nomad aboriginal communities with a pre agricultural-pottery level of development. These peoples have made a significant cultural contribution expressed in paintings found in several caves in the area. At the end of the 16th century and first half of the 17th century, the colonial rulers started a process of land concessions. Extensive livestock breeding became the major economic activity during the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is not until the second half of the 17th (1670) century that tobacco planters settled in the area. By 1840 there were already more than 3000 plots devoted to tobacco plantation.

Under this thriving economic situation, the urban settlement of Viñales began to develop in 1865. A strong rural influence and a transfer of country codes to the city marked the architectural and urban infrastructure.

The characteristics of the landscape are:

Natural landscape: strong impact of extremely beautiful lime formations visible from every corner of the Valley. There is a sharp contrast between the green of the vegetation and the crops, like tobacco, the blue sky, and the red iron-rich soil.

Urban landscape: presence of a vernacular architecture typical of the Cuban countryside, built with materials found in the area, like the royal palm tree, with a very simple spatial design.

Agro-productive landscape: there is a variety of crops, though the predominant ones are tobacco, cassava, eddo and corn. The cycle of planting, collecting and soil preparation in the different seasons of the year contributes to the colors of the cultivation areas and to the beauty of the landscape.

Comparatively, it could be classified as a unique landscape, almost unique in the world, characterized by the sharp contrast between the steep green mogotes and the parceled and cultivated valley. The area is very rich in flora and fauna. Mention should be made of the Microcyca calocoma, also known as corky-palm tree, considered a living fossil. Several factors present in the site support its historic-cultural importance. In the first place, it is one of the most important archeological and paleontological reserves in the Caribbean. There is proof of maroon refuges and evidences of aboriginal presence. Traditional tobacco cultivation techniques are another outstanding element, as well as the existence of a unique vernacular architecture.

The flora of the Valley is highly endemic: there are the pine natural forests representative of the Alturas de Pizarras; the sotobosque, extremely rich in shrub-like species, many of them endemic; the vegetation specific of the mogotes which grows in the limestone heights of the rocks and includes more than 500 flower species, most of them also endemic, such as Pinus tropicalis, Pinus caribaea Caribea variety, Erythroxylon havanense, Agave tubulata, etc., and the most important of all, the cork palm tree (Microcycas calocoma) dating from the Carboniferous Period of the Paleozoic Era, and the only species declared National Monument.

The vegetation in the Valley is also relevant because it is markedly differentiated. Different ecosystems produce a great diversity in the existing fauna, with a greater richness and specific elements per species in the ecotonos or transition zones. The site can be described as highly endemic for the species found: there are numerous species of birds, reptiles, mammals and mollusks; invertebrates have not hardly been studied, though there are endemic species such as the Papilionidae family with the species Parides gundlachianus.

Cultural life is also very rich and passes on traditions and customs down from generation to generation; cultural interbreeding (aboriginals, Spaniards and Africans) characterizes life, religion, traditions, customs, manner of speaking, games, music, dances, etc. Their attachment to traditional forms of farming and ways of life contributes to the use of extremely traditional work instruments, avoiding modern mechanized farming techniques. Some of those traditional techniques are the oxen team for plowing, the so-called pilón (mortar and tassel) to shell rice and coffee, the pipa (a sort of tank or barrel), made with the wood of the belly palm tree to carry and store water, and an extremely rich culture in tobacco growing, based on a well established infrastructure.

There are 47 well-identified archaeological sites in the Valley of Viñales, 19 of which are related to the aboriginal communities of pre-Hispanic times in Cuba and 28 to runaway or maroon African slaves in the 19th century; in all the sites, material evidences are found in the caves. The 19 aboriginal sites are mostly funeral sites; the other 28 sites with maroon evidences (possibly real palenques)are places where quadrilles or groups settled for a time.

Oral tradition has it that maroons took refuge in the slopes of the mogotes and in the caves, and the Municipal Museum exhibits archaeological evidences of the life of runaway slaves, which have been found through archeological research. Traditions are recalled and reenacted during the Viñales Week of Culture, held around the dates of the community’s foundation (the town was founded in 1607). Religious practices include santería and palomonte, which generate ceremonies, rituals and festivals related to the initiation and anniversaries of both practitioners and temple houses. They possess wide knowledge about nature and the universe in general, especially about the properties of medicinal plants and are experienced in traditional techniques related to tobacco production.

After the UNESCO inscribed the site in the World Heritage List in 1999, a plan was drafted for the management of resources in which tourism plays an outstanding role. There are three medium-size hotels that have been recently renovated and expanded. Three new small hotels will be built in the near future and the plan also includes the renovation of the Hostal Central, a symbolic building in the site. There are also 200 rooms for rent in private homes and the population in general provides other gastronomical services. Significant places within the site, such as the Prehistoric Mural, the Cave of the Indian and specialized trails are already established landmarks as part of the tours organized by tourism institutions or the Monument Division of the province.

An important feature within the management strategies is the existence of transmission programs, such as the joint program between the Municipal Museum of Viñales and the local schools for the study of local history, which encourages the younger generations to learn about their identity. Priority is given to the program of artistic education taught at the local House of Culture to channel and foster artistic motivations in children and young people, shaping their knowledge about art and about local, national and universal culture in general.