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A look at the Capitol of Havana
If you are passing through Havana, one of the places you cannot miss is the Capitol. This monumental work, a National Monument since 2010, is another of the symbols that identify the Cuban capital both inside and outside its borders.
The National Capitol of Havana is located between Prado, Dragones, Industria and San José streets, it is also the kilometric origin of the Cuban road network.
It is one of the most visited tourist centers in the entire city, the most imposing building in terms of architecture and some consider it one of the six palaces of greatest relevance worldwide.
With these few data we invite you to follow us to learn more about the origin, history and characteristics of this wonder that you should not miss while visiting Havana.
What made the construction of the Havana Capitol possible?
Before the construction of the Capitol.
The construction of this monumental building required space and was obtained from what remained after the demolition of the city walls in 1863.
In all the free area there was a roundabout surrounded by trees and in the middle the statue of Elizabeth II. Then in this space the Central Park of Havana as we know it today was designed. Green areas and parks were designed and little by little it became the most important recreation area of the Capital.
The action of always transforming man is incredible. Where today this building stands, symbol of the city there was a swamp, then a dump and then a botanical garden, the first in the history of the city.
In 1817 the garden was relocated and a railway station that would link Havana with Güines began to be built, it was called the Villanueva Station.
The station was transferred to the old Arsenal in Havana to build the new railway terminal station and build the Presidential Palace there.
It was not until the first decades of the 20th century, with the buildings of the Capitol and the Presidential Palace, seat of the executive and legislative powers of the republic, that its object changed when these buildings appeared that had a political purpose. At the same time other outstanding buildings appeared that gave importance to the area and commercial activity developed.
Project Cuban Capitol.
Historical notes let us know that when General Gerardo Machado Morales became president in 1925, he already had the intention of holding the Sixth International Pan American Conference three years later. This would occur in a building still to be built. The project was commissioned to the firm of architects Govantes and Cabarrocas on the basis of a previous project and introducing reforms.
A commission was organized led by the architect Raúl Otero and by the members of a French team led by the urban planner and landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier. Other important professionals joined the task and also contributed ideas that we see today in the building.
Forestier had a great impact on the entire image that we observe today. He respected the environment and designed public spaces and parks around it. These works included the parks of the Plaza de la Fraternidad Americana, the Capitol gardens, the Paseo del Prado strip, the Central Park, the parks of the Plaza del Palacio Presidencial and also those of Avenida del Puerto. The work of this Frenchman marked the subsequent urban development of the city of Havana.
What is the Havana Capitol like?
The National Capitol of Havana is huge. It has a total area of 43,418 m². It has a central body with the staircase and on its sides two sculptural groups made in bronze.
It has a portal supported by 12 Ionic granite columns, where the three main access doors to the building are located. Another element that stands out is its dome, we added as an interesting fact this information, at the time it was built it was the fifth tallest in the world.
Under the dome, inside, is the sculpture of La República, also at the time the second largest in the world indoors.
The Hall of Lost Steps, the largest of the existing spaces in public buildings on the entire island, joins the sides of the building. In them we find what was once the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Under the main staircase is the “Tomb of the Unknown Mambí”, there rests a sarcophagus surrounded by six bronze figures that each represent the six provinces of the republic.
Many other details make up the beauty of the place and together with this, the National Capitol stands out as the third in importance in the world for its construction and the only one of those characteristics built in the 20th century.
Decoration and furniture Capitol Habanero.
The decoration and setting of the Capitol are a prominent complement to the building. The furniture, the lamps, and the ironwork of the carpentry stand out, all with their own designs and with particular monograms for this building.
All the works were commissioned to important national and international companies that dealt in addition to the bronze fittings, the lamps, upholstery, curtains, skylights and stained glass, sculptures, marble and bronze busts, as well as the works in marble, basalt, porphyry , granite, onyx and those of blacksmithing and foundry, such as railings, bars, spiral staircases and lanterns in the gardens.
Sculptural panels and bas-reliefs in stones and marble are added to the facades of the building and in some interior spaces. Art can be seen even in the large carved doors, in the stands, platforms and tables and in the wall paintings and canvases that decorate the place.
In one of its interior gardens there is a statue dedicated to Mephistopheles or the Fallen Angel.
A Russian diamond on Capitol Hill.
Many stories are woven around the Capitol diamond, a 25-carat stone that symbolically marked kilometer zero of the national highway.
But the most credible story is that it was owned by Russia’s last Zar, Nicholas II, and that was brought to Havana by a Turkish jeweler who bought it in Paris.
It was stolen and recovered a year later, although it was never known who was the thieve. For several decades a replica has been exhibited for security, the original was kept in the safe deposit box of the Central Bank of Cuba.
Since its foundation, the National Capitol has varied its functions. It was the seat of the Constituent Assembly, which in 1940 promulgated the famous 1940 Constitution. After 1959, it became the headquarters of the Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment until today.
It is a place to pay tribute to the heroes and martyrs of the Homeland, in addition to hosting the headquarters of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
Naturally, over the years the building suffered deterioration, so it underwent restoration and renovation to allow access to the public. Recently, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, the work was completed.
Curiosities of the Capitol of Havana.
As an incentive for your visit to the Capitol on your way through Havana, I give you some curiosities of the place.
– The Capitol dome is the first curiosity we offer you. When the building opened, it could be seen from the most distant places in the city and 20 miles out to sea. The light from its lighthouse, called The Scintillator, at the time of mounting was the only one of its kind in the world and could be seen from a distance of 50 miles.
– Sixty bas-reliefs with the most interesting events in the history of Cuba are represented in the entrance doors in chronological order.
– In the interior finishes of the Capitol there are more than 20 kilograms of gold used in different ways.
– In one of the courtyards there is a plaque in tribute to the five workers killed in the construction of the Capitol. Two of them died on July 15 and only a year apart.
– In one of its interior courtyards is El Ángel Rebelde, a statue inspired by Lucifer, one of the few allusions to Mephistopheles worldwide.