Stroll through Cuban History

Cape Times (South Africa), June 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

Stroll through Cuban History


BYLINE: WILLIAM DOBSON

THINK Cuba, think Castro, Che, cigars, cars, pina colada, and of course, communism. These are all certainly predominate characteristics in the make-up of Cuba, but a trip to Havana offers so much more. The capital is like a living and breathing museum, a fascinating relic of a bygone era.

American novelist Ernest Hemingway, who lived there for 22 years right up until his death in 1961, believed that "in terms of beauty only Venice and Paris surpassed (it)". Now much of the city can only be described as dilapidated, past architectural beauty, often in a crumbling and windowless state as 50 years of communist rule, trade embargoes and hurricanes have taken their toll. Yet, despite that, it remains a vibrant, colourful and exciting city.

The architecture of the city, despite not always being perfectly preserved, is an eclectic mix of neo-classicism, art nouveau, art deco and baroque, representing the various rulers of the largest city in the Caribbean, and you can certainly get an idea of why it was once known as the Paris of the region.

Originally founded by the Spanish in its present location in 1519, it was later ruled by the British, before returning to the Spanish and finally achieving independence in 1902. El Capitolio, or the National Capitol Building, superficially similar to the Capitol Building in Washington DC, dominates the skyline and is now home to the Cuban Academy of Arts.

However, other highlights include the beautiful cathedral, thought to be the only baroque construction to possess asymmetrical features, and the Hotel Inglaterra, the oldest hotel in the city, dating back to 1875, whose past guests include a certain Winston Churchill. Also on the list of must- see buildings is the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Caba241a built in �3 by King Carlos III of Spain to protect against the threat of British invasion next to the 16th century El Morro fort, where each night at 9 o'clock a cannon is shot from the ramparts. Overlooking the deep azure of the city's harbour, these imposing and surprisingly well preserved forts are now home to a number of fascinating museums and exhibitions, detailing their history as military bases and prisons. In fact la Caba241a was used by Che Guevara as his headquarters and as a military prison from January to June, 1959.

For a panoramic view of the city one can head to El Cristo de La Habana, an imposing 20m statue of Christ, reminiscent of the one in Rio de Janeiro and made out of marble imported from Italy and personally blessed by Pope Pius XII.

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