I can still not understand why the Spanish newer made the best port in the Americas here.
Here will find the greatest variety of anemones anywhere in the world. Anemones are prevalent in the Mochima National Park area because they thrive in the rocky terrain, which exists here together with the coral reefs. Divers have also reported seeing dolphins and an occasional whale. The best time for diving in Mochima is between July and November, when underwater visibility is at its very best.
Beyond Barbacoas is Cumana, the first Spanish city in the New World. In 1515, Franciscan friars began a settlement at what would be, six years later, declared by conquistador Gonzalo de Ocampo as the city of Nuevo Toledo. Its name was changed to the present one in 1569 when the city was rebuilt following several attacks by Cumanagota Indians. The first Spanish conquistadors were received fairly well but after the Spanish began to enslave the Indians of the area, forcing them to dive for pearls off the coast and subjecting them to severe punishment if they did not harvest enough, the Indians rebelled. There were several massacres, although the Spanish retained control of Cumana.
This fishing center is not as electric as Puerto La Cruz, but its colonial architecture is far more fascinating. Low and hot, Cumaná is kept green by the Manzanares River flowing through it, kept shady by coconut groves and kept cool by breezes blowing off the Caribbean. Its population is black, descendants of slaves, and its flavor is Afro Caribbean, from the music to the homemade remedies and "white magic" practiced here. This is also a city where people are proud of working with their hands and fine crafts can be purchased.
The Colonial fortress: Located at the mouth of the Cariaco Gulf, Cumaná also has a history of war, piracy and earthquakes. The newer section of town, closest to the airport, is nondescript but the older section of town with its colonial buildings is amongst the best preserved in Venezuela.
This area is clustered around the foot of the hill where the fortress, Castillo de San Antonio, is found. This strategically-located military fort was built in 1678 to protect the city from the English, French and German corsairs that plied the coast. It was erected using classic plans for military fortifications: a four-point star with four cannons at each point. Through the centuries, the facility was rebuilt several times after earthquakes caused serious damage.
During the independence wars, Bolívar's General Paez was imprisoned here for raising arms against the Spanish governor. The fort is located on the hill known as Cerro Pan y Azura and is beautifully floodlit at night. Across the gulf is the arid Araya Peninsula, the source of Venezuela's salt.
Tunnels, long since closed by earthquakes, once connected Castillo de San Antonio with the older, smaller complex known as Santa María de la Cabeza. Visible from the fort but now in ruins with no monies to restore it, this was the 17th-century residence of the Spanish governor.
The fortified building was also the province's second military defense during colonial times. Once occupied by 250 soldiers and 50 cannons, it has been destroyed by time and tidal waves and sits abandoned not far from the church of Santa Ines.
The Church of Santa Inés de Fuerte Araya is named for the saint who has been Cumana's patron since 1572 when she was credited with saving the city from an Indian assault. This church was built upon the ruins of the Church of the Virgin of Carmen, destroyed by an earthquake in 1853, and its possessions include books and religious images brought to Venezuela by some of the country's first European missionaries. Some say that a small statue of Saint Inés carne to the city with pirates and that it was kept in this church for many years. However, the 400-year-old statue in the sacristy now is not Saint Inés, but the Virgin of Candelaria.
Cumaná also contains the ruins of the Convento de San Francisco, once home to a university. The monastery, built from 1669 to 1673, is a mute witness to much of the city's history. The first University of Cumaná operated here starting in 1812; after the countries in dependence it was converted into a national public school. Located on Calle Sucre in front of the Plaza Ribero, the former monastery was damaged by an 1853 earthquake and left in ruins after a second quake in 1929.
The town of Cumaná is now the seat of the Universidad de Oriente with programs in marine biology, oceanography and ecology.
Cumana's Cathedral contains the Cross of Pardon. Legend has it that a sinful woman, repentant, embraced the cross and begged for pardon. Onlookers were unable to separate her from the cross and took this as a sign that she had been forgiven. It is now believed that anyone who manages to embrace the cross will automatically be pardoned of their wrongdoings.
Unfortunately, there was no heavenly intervention in the early 1800s when José Tomas Boves stopped by. Three months after he had routed Caracas, Boves reached Cumana and started a new round of bloodshed, starting out with massacre of 200 people who took refuge in the Cathedral.
A Poet's home: One of the city's most popular native sons was poet Andrés Eloy Blanco, best known for his poem Píntame Angelitos Negros (Paint Me Little Black Angels) which has been set to music and made famous by a number of singers including North American Roberta Flack. The poem urges a painter, working on a canvas of a fair-skinned Virgin Mary, to paint the angels black. Eloy Blanco's birthplace on Calle Sucre just off the Plaza Bolívar has been converted in to a museum where visitors can obtain copies of his verses and see how Cumana residents lived at the turn of the century. Casa Natal Andrés Eloy Blanco is open weekdays.
From Cumana, it is possible to drive to the Araya Peninsula or take a short motorized boat trip (leaving from the Hotel Cumanagota) to the Royal Fort of Santiago de Araya, built by Royal Spanish decree in 1625 to protect the nearby Araya salt fields from Dutch incursions.
During the whirlwind construction to erect this fort as protection against Dutch ships that secretly stole valuable salt from the barren and arid flats, workers were forced to work at night because the daytime sun was unbearable. All the material's used by the laborers, as well as their food and water, had to be brought to the peninsula by boat because there is nothing -not even a plant on this plain.