Camagüey, the capital of the province with the same name, is Cuba's third-largest city and, after Havana, considered the most sophisticated; it has about 322,000 inhabitants. Typical for the old city is that its layout is confusing, with narrow, short winding streets, blind alleys and forked streets that lead to squares of different sizes. There are two explanations for this: the city would be easier to defend from raiders or that it was simply built without any planning.
It was founded as Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe in 1514 by Spanish colonists led by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, initially on the north coast at a location now known as Nuevitas and was one of the seven original settlements (villas) founded in Cuba by the Spanish. In 1528 the settlement was moved inland to the site of a Taino village named Camagüey; the name may be that of local chief, while it also could have been for a tree endemic to the area.
The irregular layout of the city with its squares, minor squares, serpentine streets, alleys and irregular urban blocks is very unusual for Latin American colonial towns. There are many churches, like the Iglesia De Nuestra Señora De La Merced, Camagüey’s most impressive colonial church, the 17th-century Iglesia San Juan de Dios next to a wonderful old square with the same name in the old city and the twin-towered baroque Church of Our Lady of Carmen on a square with unique life-sized sculptures of camagüeyanos going about their daily business. In 2008, Camagüey's well-preserved historical centre was made Cuba's ninth Unesco World Heritage Site.