The Palacio de Gobierno (Governor's Palace) on the Plaza de Armas, later renamed Parque de Libertad (Liberty Park) in Matanzas, Cuba, circa 1959.  (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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Matanzas is like a sunken galleon left at the bottom of the ocean. Most casual visitors to Cuba sail right over the top of it (usually on a tour bus to Varadero), but, a few curious adventurers dive down and discover that this city is still full of priceless treasure. Go back a few generations and Matanzas was a very different place. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the city developed a gigantic literary and musical heritage, and was regularly touted as the ‘Athens of Cuba.' Two pivotal Cuban musical forms, danzón and rumba, were hatched here, along with various religions of African origin. Matanzas also hosts one of Cuba’s finest theaters, and was the birthplace of some of its most eloquent poets and writers. Despite the deterioration, the cultural riches haven’t disappeared. You just need patience, imagination and a Sherlock Holmes hat to disentangle them.


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