There are so many amazing buildings in Havana, it is hard to just showcase a few, so this is Part 1 of a yet undetermined amount of parts.
One of the most iconic buildings in Havana is the Capitolio Nacional, which was still being renovated when we saw it in May this year. It looks like the Capitol building in Washington, DC, but apparently is modeled on the Panthéon in Paris. It was built in 1926 and took 5,000 workers 3 years, 2 months and 20 days to construct. It used to be the seat of the Cuban Congress, in 1959 it became the home of the Cuban Academny of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology. In 2013 it closed and renovations started; it is scheduled to open sometime in 2018 and will then house the National Assembly of People’s Power, the legislative parliament of Cuba.
The Museum of the Revolution is housed in the former presidential palace, which was built between 1913 and 1920 and used by a number of Cuban presidents. Tiffany’s of New York decorated the interior and it even has a Hall of Mirrors, based on the famous hall in the Palace of Versailles.
The museum tells the story of the events leading up to, during, and immediately after the Cuban revolution. It is told in English and Spanish, and we found it very interesting, albeit tinted with propaganda. The interior architecture is just as fascinating; the sweeping central staircase (closed to visitors) still retains the bullet holes made during an unsuccessful attack on the palace in March 1957 by a revolutionary student group intent on assassinating President Batista. In fact, bullet holes were to be seen in a number of walls all around the museum.
There are a number of exhibit-free rooms, some you can step into, others, like the president’s office where Fidel Castro was sworn in in 1959, you can admire from the doorway behind a barrier.
Also on show is SAU-100 tank, which was used by Castro during the 1961 Bay of Pigs battle and behind the museum you can look at Castro’s 18m yacht (a replica kept behind a glass cage) and a number of other vehicles, planes, and rockets. Overall, we enjoyed this museum and while it could be a little crowded around some of the exhibits and I would highly recommend a visit.
The Great Theater of Havana is home to Cuba’s National Ballet, unfortunately we did not see a performance during our visit (a good reason to visit Havana again!). The very first performance took place in 1837, with its formal inauguration the following year. However, the building you now see is not the original; which was torn down in 1908 and in 1985 it received its current name – The Great Theater of Havana.
Havana’s cathedral, Catedral de la Habana, was designed by Francesco Borromini, an Italian architect. Construction begun in 1748 and finished in 1787, it is one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas. The cathedral on the outside is dominated by its 2 unequal towers and framed by a baroque facade. The interior is neoclassical rather than baroque and fairly austere. The frescos above the altar are originals dating from the late 1700s, however, the paintings on the side walls are copies of originals by Murillo and Rubens. The smaller of the two towers can be climbed for a small charge. Entry is by donation and when we visited it was not busy at all and provided a nice, cool, and calming reprieve from the hustle and heat of the city’s streets.