By: Umbrella Travel
The eastern city of Baracoa is an imperative for the traveler who picks up the biggest island of the West Indies as a vacation site. Baracoa turns out to be the first city founded by the Spanish colonists on their arrival in the American continent. Besides the colonial reminiscences present in its architecture and city planning, the many merits of its peculiar geographic features and of many plant and animal species populating its surroundings are well appreciated.
Baracoa is surrounded by mountain massifs, decorated by luxuriant vegetation, virgin forests brimming with endemic flora and fauna, crystal-clear rivers and beaches enveloped by almond trees and coconut palms which make it stand out from the rest of the country. This little village was founded by Don Diego Velázquez in 1511 when the Spanish started the colonization of Cuba after its discovery on Admiral Christopher Columbus´s first trip in 1492.
However, these are not the only allurements of Baracoa: there, in the inside of its parochial church, the so-called Cruz de Parra (Vine Cross) is being preserved.
It is in the first period of the conquest, at the time of the organization tasks involved in the foundation and evangelization of the area that Velazquez´s troops find a cross covered by the undergrowth typical of the area, a discovery which was taken at the time as a divine signal showing heavenly approval of the missions assigned to the Spanish on conquered land.
It was later known that after December the first, 1492, on his first trip, Christopher Columbus had driven the religious sign into the ground at the entrance of Baracoa bay, as he later did in other twenty nine American spots where he set feet on in his endeavor as land discoverer. The Baracoa cross is the only one now preserved , thanks to the devotion and faith with which the residents of the town took care of it for five centuries, and the zeal shown by the Cuban state in the preservation of the religious object considered as the oldest religious relic embodying the history of the encounter of two cultures.
Originally seven feet high, the cross was mutilated gradually through the times, as different personalities of the Cuban colonial society requested a little piece of it as a good luck charm every time they visited the town. This went on until it was silver-plated all around its edges in the 18th century, in an attempt to circumvent the fatal destiny foretold for the cross. As a result of this depredation, nowadays only a little more than one meter out of its original length is being preserved.
The authenticity of the Vine Cross of Baracoa, who was questioned long ago, has been ascertained due to the scientific efforts of a number of national and international researchers, who have taken samples of it to North- American laboratories and submitted them to Carbon 14 tests.
The results of this research showed that the wood used for the cross dates back to the years 860 through 1530, with a degree of accuracy of 95%. The cellular structure which the Vine Cross was made of corresponds to the one of the Coccoloba Diversifolia, commonly known as Uvilla, of the type that can still be spotted in the easternmost region of Cuba, which proved that Columbus did not bring the emblem on his trip, but that it was made with wood from Baracoa.
Obviously, it is a fact that the Vine Cross constitutes the oldest monument to the presence of Christopher Columbus in all America.