Table of Contents
The Templete. Location.
Exactly on Calle Baratillo e / O’Reilly and Enna, Arms Square, in Old Havana we find El Templete. Little mentioned in advertising is perhaps one of the most important sites in the history of the capital.
It simulates a small Greco-Roman temple that was built in 1828 by the grace of Colonel Don Antonio María de la Torre and Cárdenas and sponsored by Captain General and Governor Francisco Dionisio Vives and Bishop of Havana Juan José Díaz de Espada and Fernández de Landa .
There the first mass and the first town hall of the Villa was celebrated under a ceiba tree, on November 16, 1519. While passing through Havana, you should not stop visiting this place full of Yoruba traditions that remain until today.
The Templete is a symbol of Havana. Its location determines the area that the Plaza and Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana occupied at the beginning since its foundation and that was perpetuated first by the commemorative ceiba tree, then by the stone in the Cagigal Column and later by the neoclassical temple and its interior canvases.
The ceibas del templete.
Under a ceiba tree the first mass was celebrated and also the first council in San Cristóbal de La Habana. The ceiba tree is a symbolic element for the city.
The passage of time, which ends it all, ended with the first ceiba, witness of the event. That is why, between the years 1755 and 1757, three surroundings were planted where it had been located. Two of them were dried and the third was cut in 1827 in order to build El Templete.
A year later, three other kapok trees were planted and only one managed to survive until 1960, which translates to 131 years.
Saving that centennial ceiba was a collective endeavor. Samples of the tree tissue were taken for analysis, they broke the stone fence around it because it compressed its roots and a hydroponic serum enriched with hormones was applied.
Like a loved one, the branches and dry branches were sawn, as well as those facing the sea, to avoid salt penetration; and the entire tree was fumigated with a high-pressure, low-volume pump. Despite all efforts, it failed to recover.
In 1960, another one was planted that lived until 2016. And in this same year, a 15-year-old ceiba tree was transplanted from Las Terrazas in Artemisa, which is the one that can be seen today in the Templete.
Turning the ceiba tree three times, touching it, hugging it and even kissing it attracts prosperity. It is what marks the tradition that women and men share and that shows the marked syncretism after the meeting between Spanish and African cultures.
It happens every November 15, at midnight, the people of Havana celebrate a new anniversary of the founding of the city, they go around the ceiba tree three times and make a wish.
The Cagigal Column.
In 1754, in memory of that first mass, the island’s governor, Francisco Cagigal, had a commemorative column erected. The column has three faces representing the territorial division into three provinces of the colony. At the top an image of the Virgen del Pilar.
Two texts were inscribed in it, one in Latin and the other in Old Castilian. The latter said: The town (today city) of Havana was founded in the year 1515, and when he moved from his original seat to the shore of this port in 1519, it is a tradition that a leafy ceiba tree was found under the which the first mass and council was celebrated: it remained until the one of 1753 that was sterilized. And to perpetuate memory, our Catholic Monarch, Mr. Dn, governed Spain. Ferdinand VI, ordered to erect this register Mr. Mariscal de Campo Dn. Francisco Cagigal de la Vega, of the order of Santiago, Governor and Captain General of this Island, being Attorney General Doctor Dn. Manuel Phelipe de Arango. Year of 1754.
The Latin inscription was replaced in 1903, when the column was restored, by another whose text is a version of the old one and says: Stop the step, walker; A tree adorns this site, a leafy ceiba, rather I will say a memorable sign of the prudence and ancient religion of the young city. The meeting of the prudent councilors was held for the first time more than two centuries ago: it was preserved by a perpetual tradition; nevertheless it yielded to the time. Look, then, and do not let Havana’s faith perish in the future. You will see an image made today in the stone, that is, the last of November 1754.
By 1827, given the deterioration of the column, the Governor and Captain of the Island, Don Francisco Dionisio Vives y Planes, Count of Cuba, decided to restore it and also build a larger monument. For this, the Havana city council agreed on the recovery of the column and its surroundings.
In the same year the construction of the monument began, which received the name of Templete. The column was placed on four circular stone steps and the image of the Virgen del Pilar was replaced by a golden one on fire.
On the occasion of the construction of the Templete, a marble bust was placed, with its pedestal, of the first Governor of Havana Hernando de Soto. Within the enclosure closed by the gates that surround the Temple, that bust, the ceiba tree and the Cagigal column were included.
But anyway, what is El Templete like?
El Templete is the smallest and least attractive of the buildings that surround the Arms Square and at the same time the first civil work of a notoriously neoclassical nature that Havana had.
Its facade consists of a portico with Doric columns supporting a decorated frieze and a powerful pediment in the center of which is an inscription commemorating the inauguration.
The removed facade has pilasters with Doric capitals in correspondence with the columns of the portal; its roof is flat, with a wide cornice, and the building is elevated on a perimeter step with three Jaimanitas stone steps. The interior floors are marble.
Valuable elements of the ensemble are also the iron lance fence finished in bronze points, with pillars topped by cups with pine cones, which introduces a tropical touch to the neoclassical conception.
Inside there are three canvases painted by Jean Baptiste Vermay de Beaume, founder of the San Alejandro Drawing and Painting Academy, authentic testimonies of the inauguration of the building and the founding of the town and the first mass celebrated at the foot of the first ceiba : The first mass under the memorable ceiba tree (1826) and Solemn religious festival celebrated by Bishop Espada, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Temple, are two of the oils that can be seen there.
On your way through Havana, be sure to visit this place that keeps the essence of Havana.