Founded in the early 16th century in honor of the Holy Trinity, the city was a bridgehead for the conquest of the American continent. Its 18th- and 19th-century buildings, such as the Palacio Brunet and the Palacio Cantero, were built in its days of prosperity from the sugar trade.
Trinidad, located in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spíritus, was founded in the early 16th century but owes its existence and its historical raison d’être to the sugar industry that flourished there and in the nearby Valley de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) from the late 18th century to the late 19th century.
The exemplary city of Trinidad’s prosperity during this period is clearly legible in its existing built environment, its buildings ranging in expression from modest, vernacular variants to elaborate, luxurious edifices. The Valley de los Ingenios is a remarkable testimony to the development of the sugar industry. A living museum of Cuban sugar production, it includes the sites of 75 former cane sugar mills, plantation houses, barracks and other facilities related to this vulnerable industry, which has witnessed a gradual and progressive decline.
Trinidad’s urban ensemble of domestic buildings has an exceptional typological continuity and homogeneity in terms of construction and design, in a vernacular fashion nuanced by small- to medium-sized lots, in which early 18th century buildings strongly marked by Andalusian and Moorish influences blend harmoniously with more elaborate 19th-century models that splendidly mix European neoclassical forms, superimposed on traditional spatial patterns.
The heart of the 37 ha (91 acre) historic center is Plaza Mayor, on which, overlooked by the campanile of the Convento de San Francisco, stand two noteworthy edifices: the Palacio Brunet, which provides the most authentic picture of the golden age of the city; and the neoclassical-style Palacio Cantero, which now houses the municipal history museum. In addition to its architecture, much of Trinidad’s urban fabric, including the irregular system of squares and plazas, cobblestone streets and other historical and urban elements, has been preserved.
12 km (7.5 mi) northeast of Trinidad are three interconnected rural valleys – San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer – that make up the 225 sq km (87 sq mi) Valley (or Valle) de los Ingenios. More than fifty sugar mills were in operation here at the industry’s peak in the 19th century, and in 1827 more than 11,000 slaves were working in the mills. A long, gradual decline in Cuba's sugar industry accelerated significantly in the 1990s.
The former plantations, mill buildings and other facilities and archaeological sites in the Valley de los Ingenios represent the richest and best-preserved testimony of the Caribbean sugar agro-industrial process of the 18th and 19th centuries, and of the slavery phenomenon associated with it.