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Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba

Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba

The remains of the 19th-century coffee plantations in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra are unique evidence of a pioneer form of agriculture in a difficult terrain. They throw considerable light on the economic, social, and technological history of the Caribbean and Latin American region.

Paysage archéologique des premières plantations de café du sud-est de Cuba

Les vestiges des plantations de café du XIXe siècle, au pied de la Sierra Maestra, constituent un témoignage unique d'une forme novatrice d'agriculture en terrain difficile. Ils éclairent l'histoire économique, sociale et technologique de la région Caraïbes-Amérique latine.

منظر أثري لمشاتل القهوة الأولى في جنوب شرق كوبا

تشكّل بقايا مشاتل القهوة التي تعود الى القرن التاسع عشر والواقعة عند قدم سييرا مايسترا البرهان الوحيد على نمط مبتكرٍ للزراعة في أرضٍ صعبة. وهي تسلط الضوء على التاريخ الاقتصادي والاجتماعي والتكنولوجي لمنطقة الكاريبي وأمريكا اللاتينيّة.

source: UNESCO/ERI

古巴东南第一个咖啡种植园考古风景区

这个座落在喜瑞拉梅斯特拉(the Sierra Maestra)丘陵间的19世纪咖啡种植园遗迹见证了在不规则土地上进行农业种植的创新形式,清晰地展示了加勒比海地区和拉丁美洲地区经济、社会和技术发展的历史。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Археологический ландшафт первых кофейных плантаций на юго-востоке Кубы

Остатки кофейных плантаций XIX в. у подножия гор Сьерра-Маэстра – это уникальное свидетельство ранних форм сельского хозяйства, развивавшегося на сложной для освоения территории. Они помогают значительно лучше понять экономическую, социальную и технологическую историю Карибского региона и Латинской Америки.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Paisaje arqueológico de las primeras plantaciones de caféen el sudeste de Cuba

Los vestigios de las plantaciones de café del siglo XIX, situados al pie de la Sierra Maestra, constituyen un testimonio excepcional del uso de técnicas agrícolas precursoras en terrenos difíciles. Estos vestigios aclaran aspectos de la historia económica, social y tecnológica del Caribe y América Latina.

source: UNESCO/ERI

キューバ南東部のコーヒー農園発祥地の景観

source: NFUAJ

Archeologisch landschap van de eerste koffieplantages in het Zuidoosten van Cuba

De resten van de 19e-eeuwse koffieplantages bestaan uit de overblijfselen van 171 historische koffieplantages op de steile en ruige hellingen van de bergvalleien in Sierra Maestra regio. Ze zijn het unieke bewijs van een pioniersvorm van landbouw op een moeilijk terrein. De koffieproductie werd in de 18e eeuw gestart op het eiland Santo Domingo door de Franse kolonisten. Zij waren met hun slaven gevlucht naar Cuba vanwege de opstanden in 1790 en de jaren daarna. Het archeologisch landschap werpt veel licht op de economische, sociale en technologische geschiedenis van het Caribisch gebied en de Latijns-Amerikaanse regio.

Source: unesco.nl

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Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba © Ko Hon Chiu Vincent
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Las Primeras Plantaciones Cafetaleras del sudeste de Cuba, enmarcadas en las provincias de Guantánamo y Santiago de Cuba ocupan un área total de 81 475 ha, en este vasto territorio no solo encontramos  las evidencias materiales de las antiguas haciendas cafetaleras, sino también  la red de caminos que los comunicaban  entre ellos con los puntos de  exportación del café, así como el entorno natural al cual se adecuan de forma tan sabia.The First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba is a cultural landscape illustrating colonial coffee production from the 19th to early 20th centuries. It includes not only the architectural and archaeological material evidence of 171 old coffee plantations or cafetales, but also the infrastructure for irrigation and water management, and the transportation network of mountain roads and bridges connecting the plantations internally and with coffee export points. The topography, dominated by the steep and rugged slopes of the Sierra Maestra foothills, speaks to the plantation owners’ (primarily of French and Haitian origin) ingenuity in their exploitation of the natural environment through the sweat and blood of their African slaves. The inscribed property occupies a total area of 81,475 hectares within the two provinces of Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba. The Sierra Maestra Grand National Park encompasses the area of the inscribed property located in Santiago de Cuba. 

Individual plantations exist in varying states of preservation from the restored museum of La Isabelica coffee plantation farm to plantation ruins that are no more than archaeological sites. Typically, plantations include the owner’s house, terraced drying floors, production areas for milling and roasting, and workers’ quarters. Other outbuildings such as workshops are found on the larger plantations. The coffee processing system of wet pulping, developed exclusively by the French in this area required specific hydraulic infrastructure of cisterns, aqueducts and viaducts which are still visible in the landscape. Surviving vegetation illustrates the integration of coffee growing shaded by the natural forest or under fruit trees as well as French-style formal gardens that integrated local flora.La cultura material que sobrevivió de aquellas magnificas haciendas cafetaleras levantadas a finales de siglo XVIII y principios del siglo XIX, representan un testimonio valioso de la relación hombre – naturaleza. 

Criterion (ii): Las Primeras Plantaciones Cafetaleras del sudeste de Cuba conforman un conjunto de 171  edificaciones agroindustriales de finales del siglo XVIII y principios del siglo XIX que constituyen una muestra material de un acontecimiento histórico de gran importancia para el mundo, la Revolución Haitiana, este fenómeno trajo consigo elementos de una cultura determinada que tuvo sus manifestaciones, no solo en la obra arquitectónica, ingenieril o hidráulica, sino también en la economía, la música, la danza, la literatura, la gastronomía, la religión, el arte, los gustos y las costumbres que forman parte del patrimonio intangible, y que fue tan diferente del desarrollado en la isla antes de la llegada de los inmigrantes franco-haitianos.The remains of the 19th and early 20th century coffee plantations in eastern Cuba are unique and eloquent testimony to a form of agricultural exploitation of virgin forest, the traces of which have disappeared elsewhere in the world.

Criterion (iv): El complejo industrial cafetalero de la región sudoriental de Cuba, constituye el testimonio más antiguo de su tipo que ha sobrevivido de los orígenes de la cultura cafetera en el ámbito americano y el empleo del sistema húmedo de beneficios del café alcanzó su plenitud en la región y constituye así el antecedente del sistema moderno para el procesamiento del grano.The production of coffee in eastern Cuba during the 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the creation of a unique cultural landscape, illustrating a significant stage in the development of this form of agriculture. 

Integrity

The Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the Southeast of Cuba has survived intact primarily due to the fact that the area was mostly abandoned in the early 20th century as this region’s traditional coffee growing techniques were increasingly unable to compete with new methods adopted elsewhere in Latin American. The large area included within the inscribed property, of 171 plantations in over 800 square kilometres, has permitted the preservation of a cultural landscape for coffee production from the agricultural level, to its processing, and the roads, trails and bridges that linked the product to market. Individual plantations include the owner’s house (often based on Basque traditions), aqueducts, flourmills, fermentation tanks, drying sheds, and barracks. 

Current threats to the inscribed property are primarily due to its status as a largely abandoned archaeological site and the reclamation of the landscape by nature. Efforts have been made to clear and fence plantations in order to protect them from intrusions. The region is an active tectonic zone with a history of earthquakes. In future, this area may come under increased threat from uncontrolled tourism and the exploitation of natural resources although currently accessibility to the majority of the cultural properties is very limited due to its isolation. Additional potential threats to the site are the possible effects of climate change on coffee plantations, particularly drought. 

Authenticity

The cafetales within the inscribed area illustrate a rich and complete history of an era of agricultural industry with significant material cultural. Surviving evidence includes examples of the ingenious system aqueducts and viaducts as well as of cisterns and mills used to pulp the berries required for the wet system of coffee production.  Plantation owners typically were of French or Haitian origin and created a distinct regional culture in their music, dance and gastronomy which continues to survive. 

Authenticity during the restoration process is maintained through careful excavation and study of some fifty archaeological sites along with the examination of written documentation such as wills, diaries, travellers’ accounts in Cuban and French archives.

The abandoned plantations exist in a variety of states of restoration. While the plantations have common features, each is distinct with its own unique elements.

Restoration projects undertaken at various plantations have been based on detailed archaeological and documentary research and applied authentic materials and techniques. Such projects have included the development of La Isabelica museum in the 1960s, and more recently the owner’s house at Ti Arriba plantation museum and the garden at San Juan de Escocia. Some of the original road infrastructure has been upgraded although most remain in their original form as simple mule tracks and footpaths. 

Protection and management requirements

The components of the inscribed property are owned by the Cuban government through various institutions of the Ministry of agriculture (Minagri). The national government provides for legal protection and conservation of the system of ruins from the French coffee plantation settlements through the National Monuments Commission. At the provincial level, this is the responsibility of the Provincial Cultural Heritage Centres with the involvement of the Santiago City Curator’s Office. 

Strong legislative protection is in force in the region, in particular within the Sierra Maestra Grand National Park (1980). Plantations within Guantanamo Province have special protection as part of regional planning regulations as part of the Nipe-Sagua-Baracoa mountain ridge area. 

Tourism development plans are focused on controlled tourism in defined areas linked by footpaths where motorized transportation is not possible. Additional undertakings, designed to improve the region’s socio-economic situation, have included economic development and soil use studies. 

Exceptionally, the inscribed property does not include a buffer zone due to its extent of territory covered with the inclusion of the 171 plantations along with the landscape between them.

Long Description

The remains of the 19th- and early 20th-century coffee plantations in eastern Cuba are unique and eloquent testimony to a form of agricultural exploitation of virgin forest, the traces of which have disappeared elsewhere in the world. The production of coffee in eastern Cuba during the 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the creation of a unique cultural landscape, illustrating a significant stage in the development of this form of agriculture.

Coffee production was established in the island of Saint Domingue (Hispaniola) by French settlers in the 18th century. The uprisings from 1790 onwards, culminating in the establishment of the independent state of Haïti in 1804, resulted in the flight of French plantation owners, accompanied by many of their African slaves, to the neighbouring island of Cuba, then under Spanish rule. They were to be joined by other coffee planters, from Metropolitan France and elsewhere, throughout the 19th century. In the late 19th century coffee production began in other parts of Latin America, such as Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica. New techniques were introduced, based on developed agricultural systems; the early plantations in eastern Cuba found themselves unable to compete in the growing world markets and they gradually closed down.

The site consists of the remains of 171 historic coffee plantations on the steep and rugged slopes of mountain valleys in this region of the Sierra Maestra. The traditional plantation consists of a number of basic elements: its centre is the residence of the owner, surrounded by much more modest accommodation for the slaves, both domestic and agricultural. The owner's house always dominates the main industrial element, the terraced drying floor (secadero ), on which the coffee beans were spread and steeped in water in preparation for subsequent processing. On the larger plantations are to be found workshops for working wood and metal, and sometimes lime-kilns (as at San Luís de Jacas).

The plantations are linked by clearly defined roads, fully metalled within the boundaries of the plantations themselves. Elaborate channels, often built as arcaded aqueducts (as at San Luís de Jacas), and sluices conduct water from natural streams and springs for irrigation and process purposes; many of the plantations that have been studied have large stone-built cisterns for water storage.

Coffee trees require shade, and so they were planted under the cover of the natural forest trees. In addition, cleared areas were interplanted with coffee and fruit trees, such as citrus fruits, guava and other tropical fruits, which provided a source of food for the plantation owners and their slaves. In plots attached to the houses vegetables and other crops could be raised for the use of the owners' households.

The owners' houses were substantial structures adapted to the requirements of a tropical climate. Constructed largely in wood, on stone foundations and with shingled roofs, they had rooms for living and sleeping, often decorated according to prevailing fashions. A number were equipped with fireplaces (e.g. Jaguey) and rudimentary sanitary facilities. They were usually surrounded by a ditch of some kind, for protective purposes. Their kitchens were sited in separate structures, close to the main house. Less is known about the huts of the slaves. Evidence in the form of postholes and beaten floors indicates that they were flimsy structures of wood and branches, probably roofed with branches and leaves. Scanty finds from excavations give an indication of the very low standard of living of these workers.

The secaderos are immediately recognizable, in the form of large sunken areas surrounded by low walls and linked with cisterns or water channels. Clever use is made of the natural topography so as to minimize physical labour in the production process and facilitate water handling.

Apart from the restored buildings (La Isabelica, Ti Arriba) and the garden at San Juan de Escocia, where every care has been taken to ensure that authentic materials and techniques are based on meticulous site survey and archival research, the authenticity of the ruined cafetales is total.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

Coffee production was established in the island of Saint- Domingue (Hispaniola) by French settlers in the 18th century. The uprisings from 1790 onwards, culminating in the establishment of the independent state of Haiti in 1804, resulted in the flight of French plantation owners, accompanied by many of their African slaves, to the neighbouring island of Cuba, then under Spanish rule. They were granted lands in the south-eastern part of the island in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, at that time largely not settled and eminently suitable for coffee growing because of its climate and natural forest cover.

They quickly established coffee plantations (cafetales) over a very large area, introducing and improving the techniques and layouts developed in Haiti and elsewhere. They were to be joined by other coffee planters, from Metropolitan France and elsewhere (Catalans, English, Germans, and North Americans, as well as criollos from other parts of the region), throughout the 19th century. There was extensive physical and cultural intermingling with the criollo population, of Spanish ethnic origin, in the region, and a vigorous multiethnic culture developed.

The plantation owners created an elaborate infrastructure of roads and water management in this difficult physical environment, in order to service their enterprises. Much of this survives to the present day, in the form of mountain roads and bridges.

From the late 19th century onwards coffee production began in other parts of Latin America, such as Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica. New techniques were introduced, based on developed agricultural systems, and the early plantations in eastern Cuba found themselves unable to compete in the growing world markets. They gradually closed down, and now only a handful survive in production using the traditional techniques in the region.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation