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Santiago de Cuba was first established in the beginning of the sixteenth century when the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the area and claimed it as their own. The original founder was Diego Velazquez de Cuellar; however other explorer, including the well-known Hernan Cortes, quickly came to the area. Many Spanish explorers used Santiago de Cuba as a base for exploring nearby areas such as the Mexican coast.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, the French came and tried to take over the area, but their attempt was unsuccessful. The Spanish gained strength after defeating the French. At this time, the Spanish began to set up missions and cathedrals in the area, some of which are still standing today. Throughout most of this time, Santiago was considered the capital of the area by the Spanish who were relocating there.
In the middle of the seventeenth century, the British followed the lead of the French in trying, unsuccessfully, to invade the area. The Spanish maintained control over the area. One hundred years after the British invasion, the area was affected by an earthquake which forced the Spanish to reconstruct many of their buildings. They did so successfully.
In terms of modern history, the most significant event in the area was the Cuban Revolution which occurred in the middle of the twentieth century. Much of the success of the revolution is attributed to leaders who were organizing in the area. Travelers interested in learning more about the area might be interested in the books recommended at http://www.tripadvisor.com/mgo-g14727... .