The Republic of Cuba is a country that consists of several islands including the island of Cuba. Despite the small size, it possesses a rich culture and landscape painted by history and its people. The architecture, culture, and many aspects visible to tourists were directly influenced by African and Spanish culture.
Within this article, 15 buildings and spaces prominent to any architect will be highlighted for your next trip to Cuba. Whether you were planning to visit or not, this article will highlight Cuban history and how interlinked it is with its architecture. Each building emphasizes a different part of Cuban history and thus its identity.
1. Museo de Artes Decorativas
The museum is an extended look at the lives of the ultra-rich. The decorative nature of the museum is provided by its earlier use as a mansion designed by P. Virad and M. Destugué in 1927. The mansion was owned by José Gómez Mena but it was his sister María Luisa Gómez Mena who hosted parties and gatherings within it.
Nevertheless, the building became part of the National Museum of Decorative Arts in 1964 until the present. There are elaborate transitions made from one style to the next shown through the furniture present within the main hall. The furniture indicates the progression from Regency to Rococo.
2. Plaza de la Revolución
The plaza contains a crucial part of Cubans history and remains there to continue symbolising it. Around the perimeter of the plaza are administrative buildings which act as offices of Cuba’s governmental bureaucracy.
The political history is entwined with the space and was used for large political rallies by leaders such as the Castro brothers to address the Cuban population. The plaza is known for the steel sculptor of Che Guevara upon the eastern façade of the Ministerio del Interior.
3. Castillo de la Real Fuerza
This castle is a further actualisation of the political side of Cuban history, The castle is found in the bounds of military architecture during the Spanish rule which took hold of the Caribbean. The design is strategically facing out towards the sea. Within the 18th Century, the design became a key defence in Cuba from the English Crown.
The castle housed the general governor for two centuries but has now shifted to becoming the location of the Fortaleza Museum and Royal Force Museum.
4. Gran Teatro de La Habana
The Gran Teatro de La Habana is a space recognised for housing the performing arts. The theatre was opened in the 19th century and introduced ballet to its regular schedule in the 60s. The venue space has reopened to the public in 2016 due to the need for extensive renovation. The façade introduces the visitor to the grand space with its neo-baroque style. The theatre is a landmark for Cuban culture and its architecture and art highlights its importance.
Fusterlandia combines the interests of art and architecture and establishes them in the city. José Fuster is a Cuban artist who uses forms and colour to enhance his surrounding with mosaics. Initially, the intention was to recreate what other artists have done previously where they simply create public art but instead has transformed the neighbourhood of Jaimanitas economically.
It was a slow process with Fuster decorating his studio and then receiving permission to go on further and further. It encompasses a childlike nature with the forms but is like most art, stimulating.
6. Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
The Captain General Palace is a further example of the baroque architecture found in Cuba. It is a two-story building made out of limestone and can easily be distinguished due to its excessive use of columns in the façade.
Similar to the previous buildings mentioned, the building went from being owned by a then high-status individual, Governor Miguel Tacón, to it being a museum. You will be able to enter private quarters used by the captains general and their families as well as uniforms, artillery pieces, and religious art.
7. Parque Histórico Militar Morro-Cabaña
There are multiple sites within the Morro-La Cabaña Historical Military Park which were constructed to be the most powerful defence the Spanish developed in the Americas. The military as well as the war history is a recurring theme within Cuba and should be visited to gain a better understanding of the place and its people.
The building designed for construction was carefully engineered to shield the people and to defend themselves. Homogeneous to the rest of the buildings in Cuba it uses brick for construction.
8. Castillo de San Pedro del Morro
Taking a closer look at the Morro Castle it was originally put in place to defend the town of San Cristobal de la Habana. Despite the need surrounding it, economic problems as well as contradiction between the engineer and Cuba’s governors, the castle was completed in the 17th century. Despite the building works taking place in the last decades of the 16th century. Once piracy was a limited threat, the fort was used as a prison. Today it is used to accommodate the Museo de Piratería.
9. El Capitolio
The National Capital of Cuba is one of the most iconic buildings striking visual similarities to the United States Capitol. It took 5000 workers and just over 3 years to complete it. The building was originally used as the headquarters of the Cuban Congress but has been converted in the 20th century into the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the Science and Technology National Library. The material of the building accommodates its grand style with limestone and granite.
10. Manaca Iznaga Tower
The tower is a piece of Cuban history that was used as a way to oversee the slaves working in the sugar cane fields. It is a powerful reminder of a dark time in Cuban history. You will be able to see and look over the valleys but also further, beyond the fields. It is the tallest tower ever constructed in the Caribbean sugar region. With 7 stories high, the view towards the top lets you see far beyond the outlines of the field.
11. Palacio de Valle
The building has distinct grand features such as its red-bricked roofs and green details on the façade. The building was designed by Alfredo Colli, an Italian architect. The building was commissioned to be built as a private home but was sold. The plan for the building was unclear and rumours suggested that the intention was to turn it into a casino.
Since the use was not established, the Ministry of Tourism within the Cuban government kept the building intact for visitors.
12. Museo de la Revolución
Similar to the other buildings found in Cuba, the building was repurposed into housing a museum providing glimpses of the Cuban Revolution and telling its story. Since the building was used for important meetings between the president and his visitors, the building was used to indicate status and importance.
Upon visiting, you will be able to behold Cuban themed motifs as well as luxury furniture and the art of renowned Cuban artists. The museum houses pieces before the revolution but the majority of it is regarding the Batista government and Fidel Castro’s rebel movement.
13. Plaza de San Francisco
The plaza was originally a space flourishing with its markets. However, it was resituated as a response to complaints made by monks due to the noise. Visually, the buildings surrounding the plaza are beige and light in tone.
Buildings facing the plaza include Customs House and Sierra Maestra cruise ship terminal. It was always used as a trade centre as well as a space for people to get together whether it was for coin or card games or lotteries. The fountain is an iconic part of the plaza.
14. Plaza Vieja
The plaza is a beautiful exemplar of two different architectural styles, Cuban baroque and art nouveau, joining together. The buildings surrounded by the plaza used to house Cuba’s wealthiest residents who were able to overlook the plaza.
Originally the plaza was used to accommodate military training but became the open marketplace moved from Plaza de San Francisco due to the noise complaints. This space is colourful throughout and has many places to eat and socialise. Similar to the previous plaza, it has a majestic fountain.
15. Catedral de San Cristóbal
The cathedral engages the visitors with a baroque façade and asymmetrical towers with an internal neoclassical style. It captures many influential people and moments of which includes a painting of the pope giving mass which has been present in the building since the 15th century.
The international parts of the cathedral highlight the unique adornments, where the gold and silver sculptor were made in Rome by Bianchini under Spanish sculptor Antonio Solá. Most famously the cathedral is known to have housed Christopher Columbus’ remains in the central nave.