Situated on the Caribbean coast of south-central Cuba at the heart of the country’s sugar cane, mango, tobacco and coffee production area, the historic colonial town of Cienfuegos first developed in the neoclassical style. It later became more eclectic but retained a harmonious overall townscape.
Cienfuegos was established in 1819 on the Caribbean coast of south-central Cuba. Although located in Spanish territory, many of its first settlers were of French origin from Bordeaux and French colonies such as Louisiana. A commercial port town, located in the heart of a fertile agricultural region producing sugar, cane, mango, tobacco and coffee, its prosperity was primarily linked to the 19th-century sugar boom. By the 1860s, Cienfuegos was the third most important city in Cuba, by economical wealth.
The city's original center was composed of 25 blocks, laid out in a grid plan with absolute geometric regularity, inspired by the Spanish Enlightenment. As an example of modern urbanism in Spanish American, this planned town reflected new socio-economic and cultural trends related to urban order, the role of public spaces, and public hygiene requirements for natural light and ventilation.
Public functions were focused on Parque José Martí (formerly Square of Arms) the site of the church and public and government buildings. Notable among the 19th-century neoclassical buildings are the Santa Iglesia Catedral de la Purísima Concepción (Holy Church Pure Concepción Cathedral), the Tomás Terry Theater, the Spanish Casino, Palatino Tavern (or White Palace), the House Lions, "The Union" Hotel, the house-warehouse of the Spanish merchant José García of the Noceda, and the Customs Building.
Buildings dating from the early 20th century followed a more eclectic design but maintained certain proportions, construction materials and stylistic features creating harmony. residential buildings, for example, are one or two stories in height with plain facades, generally without porches. Masterful metalwork of wrought and cast iron is present in elegant grills, railings and fences.
The inscribed historic center covers 70 ha (173 acres) surrounded by a buffer zone of 105 ha (260 acres) that extends south along the eastern side of the port.