Trinidad: Tobacco Architecture


25/02/2014

Trinidad

Tobacco architecture is not only the vernacular one that exists in rural areas, represented by thatch-roofed shacks and leaf-curing barns, but rather the way former villages linked to the tobacco trade used to be built in the past. On the banks of the Agabama, Ay and other rivers that cross the San Luis Valley –later on renamed as the Valley of Mills- the first tobacco planters in the country reportedly settled down there. In 1659, the Trinidad ruler Don Manuel Diaz de la Vega said tobacco was first grown with commercial purposes on the banks of those abovementioned rivers as early as 1600. The planting of this crop had been passed on by earlier generations of local residents for whom the consumption of tobacco had healing and religious ends. The importance of tobacco trade grew to such a scope that in 1735 the Trinidad town hall filed a suit against the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador for the right to have access to the market of Colombia’s Cartagena de Indias. 

In those years, the first tile-roofed, brick-and-mortar buildings were popping up in Trinidad; large mansions built with wooden roofs, huge window bars and vast barns in the backyards for breeding animals and planting fruit trees, medicinal plants and other for decoration. Houses that lay bare the emergence of a fledgling, home-loving local oligarchy attached to their nobility pedigree –a condition they could only keep through marriages between cousins and relatives. In such streets as Real del Jigue, visitors can still look at olden and outstanding examples, like the mansion that belonged to Don Nicolas Pablos Velez –currently home to La Canchanchara pub- one of the most notorious smugglers in town who had made a killing through the sales of tobacco and leather, and had eventually pioneered the deployment of the sugar industry in that zone. Hefty wooden posts, floors made up of small cobblestones used in pavements, large doors that revolve on themselves, larders boasting geometrically decorative sizes and roofs decked out with black paint streaks speak volumes of Trinidad’s early architectural splendor related to the tobacco commerce. Pablos Velez is remembered in town as the man who bought the venerated image of the Christ of Veracruz in 1713, later donated to the Major Parish and initially placed in the chapel –still standing- of his valuable home.

Parroquia Mayor de La Santa Trinidad

Tobacco gave way to the sugar industry, whose driving force did in the tobacco former plantations and eventually pushed them up to the mountains. The leaf harvested in Manicaragua was famous due to its quality and it was the main source for cigar factories established in the city in the early 20th century, where different types were produced: the trigo (wheat) – yellow and smoked by the people on the island- the cream-colored tar; the pectoral – almost black and inhaled by Haitians and Jamaicans - and the white one – known as “rice paper”- which finally prevailed. The benefits of this industry, throughout the 1920s, brought about the construction of an outstanding group of houses that introduced new elements of eclecticism and marked one of the most brilliant moments of the cigar architecture in Trinidad.