Here at the Buenavista Coffee Plantation in Las Terrazas we’ll learn about slave coffee production established by the French two centuries ago. Buenavista is the only plantation built on the crest of a mountain.
Coffee grinding millstone.
From its vantage point over the San Juan River in the Sierra del Rosario Mountains, a beautiful natural bathing spot noted for its sulphur springs, clear, clean waters, and natural pools, a less joyful story is told. We’ll discover the harsh conditions of the slaves who worked here and abject lives they led from birth to death. Herein we’ll tell this story vicariously from the history of French coffee plantations in eastern Cuba. All of the photos shown are from Buenavista in Pinar del Río province which you will visit on your trip.
Restored entrance to plantation.
Cuba’s Ancient Coffee Plantations Eastern Cuba has dozens of ruins of French-Haitian coffee plantations established in that territory in the late 18th century and the early 19th century. There were 100 farms in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, a reminder of a period during which the wealthy white French slavers settled down in the island, bringing their customs and culture. The plantations were established by white plantation bosses fleeing neighboring Haiti in 1789. They were escaping Haiti’s revolution that resulted in the world’s first Black democracy, only some 50 nautical miles from Haiti.
Most coffee plantations are located in the zones of La Gran Piedra, El Cobre, Dos Palmas and Contramaestre. The plantations form part of the coffee belt in the southeastern region of Cuba, the largest Antillean island, and became a key element in the region history and culture. In addition to the original outlines of the plantations, those places show live testimonies of the agro-industrial techniques used by the French exiles, as well as other customs and houses with an architectural style similar to the ones they destroyed in Haiti before immigrating to Cuba.
Slaves drank from water bucket made of tree bark.
Thatched barn that housed millstone.
These imprints of that past, declared Humankind’s Heritage by UNESCO, constitute, according to experts, a true monument to hydraulic, road, domestic and funeral engineering and to the productive system, thus revealing the expertise of their creators and the suffering of the slaves who toiled to build then labor within them. The experience of the French was accompanied by a rich cultural treasure, reflected in the evolution of manifestations such as literature, music, dance, religion and gastronomy, not only in eastern Cuba but also in other regions of the Caribbean, beyond the frontiers of Cuba. History lovers can visit the ruins of coffee plantations such as Santa Sofía, a giant with more than 600 slaves, Kentucky and La Isabelica. The latter, which architecture is in a perfect state of conservation, houses a museum of ethnography.
That property, located in the heights of La Gran Piedra, is related to the legend of a French settler who fell in love with a beautiful slave named Isabelica, with whom he eventually married. The ruins of French-Haitian coffee plantations embody a heritage resulted in the island’s rich mix of many cultures and colors.
Today Cuban coffee is grown on collective farms owned and control by all who work upon them – white and black. Their product is grown organically and considered amongst the best in the world.
Modern visitors practice milling. In the past slaves performed this function from dawn to dusk.