A living postcard, Havana retains its revolutionary character that attracts tourists not only for its architectural wonders but also for the illustrious history attached to it.
In the modern history of Cuba, the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) has played a key role in structuring every aspect of the island nation, very apparent in the architecture of the capital city of Havana. Long a colony of Spain, a lot of Cuba’s architecture mimics the Spanish style of architecture that includes the seamless fusion of both Neoclassical and Baroque styles.
“Countries which were under colonisation, in this case, Cuba, the colonial period was characterised by volatility, meaning military architecture from this period is notable,” Vansh Madre, an architecture student from Delhi tells India Outboundreferring to the Cuban revolution. The impact of the Cuban Revolution brought major changes to the architecture of the nation, with new buildings constructed in modern styles, many finished and many left abandoned.
Continually celebrated by architects, historians and tourists alike, here we mention three of Cuban capital’s sensational architectural marvels.
The unfinished tale of art: National Art Schools
“Cuba will count as having the most beautiful academy of arts in the world,” said then Cuban Prime Minister, Fidel Castro in 1961, two years after the success of the Cuban Revolution.
It is rather unclear that, the idea to develop a national art school in Havana was Fidel Castro’s or his dearest companion and Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara’s. However, the outstanding idea was put to purpose by the architect Ricardo Porro, a reputed name in the Cuban architecture world. National Art Schools, built on a golf course, at a once-luxurious and exclusive country club are located in the far western Havana suburb of Cubanacán, which was once considered to be Havana’s Beverly Hills.
The construction began in 1961 properly as per the design which included five buildings for five different art schools- ballet, modern dance, visual arts, music and theatre.The buildings were also to be mended with the landscape to create an ‘organic architecture’.
Construction went on the schools only until 1965, post which the budget no longer supported the development of the schools. The theatre school had only been about a third of the way completed and the floors and windows of the ballet school were still unfinished. Today the schools are known as the Instituto Superior de Arte.
This unfinished art school, now art in itself, attracts many architecture fans from across the globe, which admires the notable brick and terracotta domes and witness revolution within the architecture at the romantic ruins of the National Arts School.
The site has also been added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2003, in the Cultural category.
Plaza de la Revolución: Revolution Square
A remarkable reminder of the Cuban Revolution, the Revolution square’s construction originally began during the presidency of Fulgencio Batista. In 1959, the construction was finished and so was the reign of Batista. Originally called Plaza Cívica (Civic Square), it was renamed to Plaza de la Revolución or “Revolution Square after Fidel Castro came into power.
The site features renowned landmarks such as the famous Jose Marti Memorial which is a 109 m (358 ft) tall tower and an 18 m (59 ft) statue. An elevator allows access the top of the memorial, one of the tallest points in the city of Havana. An elevator allows access the top of the memorial, at 109 m one of the tallest points in the city.
Opposite to the memorial lie the famous Soviet-era facades that feature the matching welded artwork of the two most revolutionary figures of the iconic Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, with the quotation “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always) and Camilo Cienfuegos “Vas Bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel).
Coppelia: Cathedral of ice cream
One of the largest ice cream parlours in the world, Coppelia is a state-run ice cream chain that started in 1966. Built on the site of a former hospital by Fidel Castro to introduce his love of dairy products to the Cuban population and to produce more ice cream flavours than the American giants by buying the best machines from the Netherlands and Sweden, the place became an instant hit.
A Cuban Revolution modernist building designed by architect Mario Girona encompasses five massive white granite discs annexed to one great helicoidal staircase under one large roof with coloured glass and wooden panels to divide up seating areas, giving it a spaceship-like look.
Serving thousands of customers each day, tourists must be prepared for hours of long queues to ultimately select their favourite flavours of ice cream at affordable prices.