Havana is a photographer’s dream. Its confection of architectural gems tells the 500-year history of a city that has had many faces: from its colonial beginnings to its communist present. Drawing influences from an array of sources over the centuries, Havana’s cityscape is graced with a hotchpotch of styles and colours, making it a totally unique city, and totally Cuban.
Colonial and Baroque
The early examples of Cuban architecture are in its forts and fortresses, such as La Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Habana, which dates back to 1558 when Havana was a heavily fortified port city. When Christopher Columbus and the colonists arrived in Cuba in the 16th century, they brought with them influences from the Old World, including Moorish, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Roman styles, and Habana Vieja is dripping in colonial gems – many of which have been painstakingly restored to their former glory. For instance, the Plaza de la Catedral is steeped in beautiful baroque buildings, such as the Catedral de San Cristóbal (1749) with its striking facade clad in classical columns.
The era of neoclassicism in Cuba saw the construction of many Spanish-influenced buildings sprouting up across the city, characterised by pretty colonnaded archways that recall the architecture of Andalucian towns like Seville and Granada. The Aldama Palace (1844) in Centro Habana is an exquisite example of this, with its leafy courtyards and opulent French interiors, while the Vedado district is home to an array of neoclassical mansions which flourished from the 1860s onwards. However it is the Capitolio Nacional (1929) which best exemplifies the grandeur of this period, with a striking cupola that was at the time the third largest in the world, cast bronze statues, inlaid marble floors and intricately carved ceilings.
During the boom period of early 20th century, when Cuba flourished off the back of the sugar trade, Havana developed at a faster rate than ever before and was hailed as the finest city in Latin America. The wealth of Havana was made evident in its opulent Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings, such as the impressive Edificio Bacardi (1930), the former headquarters of the Bacardi rum empire which is adorned with terracotta panels of nymphs. Meanwhile the wealthy district of Miramar is dripping with Art Deco gems: private houses featuring pastel hues and whimsical motifs; while Havana’s Colón Cemetery in Vedado is dotted with Art Deco tombs, like the white-domed mausoleum of Catalina Lasa.