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Architecture and culture of Havana

There's no separating Havana's architecture from its culture – out here, they're one and the same. Havana's history stretches back for more than 500 years, and so it's seen a thing or two when it comes to architectural movements.


A little history

Walking through its streets, you'll notice that Havana, in a way, resembles a cake, with each of the different buildings forming layers that have been laid down across centuries. Baroque, Art Deco, Neoclassical – Havana's architecture isn't one size fits all.

Each of its landmarks and buildings has a unique story to tell, revealing a certain moment in Havana's history. They're like timestamps, helping illuminate this city's – and by extension, Cuba's – story one spire, window and castle wall at a time.

We've got a summary of some of the city's most prevalent architectural movements, along with a few landmarks thrown in for good measure.

Architectural styles in Havana

Memorise this handy architectural guide and you can basically start a walking tour company of your own.

Baroque

Baroque is the movement that swept in just after the Renaissance, and is often noted for its dramatic flourishes and the way in which it plays with light and dark. It's the height of OTT, equipped with spires decked in curly Q's, and is meant to evoke emotion.

Baroque buildings in Havana include The Havana Cathedral and its surrounding plaza.

Neoclassical

Neoclassical architecture is the most prominent architectural style in Havana – it's a return to more classical architectural forms. It's basically what we see when we look at old school, marble buildings – think columns, domes and flat walls with little adornment.

The Neoclassical style was also influenced heavily by city planning, especially in Havana. Quite a bit of the city was laid out in a way to accentuate certain landmarks.

Neoclassical buildings in Havana include the Aldama Palace and the National Capitol Building, or El Capitolio.

Art Deco

The Art Deco movement was all about style and luxury, combining expensive materials with posh designs that were the height of chic at the time. It's usually characterised by bold, geometric patterns and clean lines, hitting its peak in the roaring 20s, when opulence was the name of the game.

Art Deco buildings in Havana include the Edificio Bacardi and the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

Havana's Landmarks



Fortress San Carlos de la Cabana

This 18th-century fortress is the third largest of its kind in the Americas, built as reinforcement to the El Morro Castle.

It acted as a base for both the Spanish and the Cubans, as well as a prison for those captured under the rule of Fidel Castro. Within, you'll find Che Guevara's office, as well as a number of museums and a connection to El Morro.

El Morro Castle

Serving as a counterpart to La Cabana, El Morro sits at the mouth of Havana from atop a hill, where it stares out over the waterfront.

It was first constructed in the 16th century as a lookout for incoming raids, though it was eventually captured by the British in the 18th century and returned to the Spanish a year later.

Great Theatre of Havana

With its ornate facade and curly spires, Havana's Great Theatre is one of those buildings you couldn't possibly ignore. It's the home to the Cuban National Ballet, though it also presents other concerts and operas on its stages as well.

Christ of Havana

Looking much like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Christ of Havana stands guard over the city from the eastern side of the bay. He rises up about 20 metres tall, weighs more than 300 tonnes, and was personally blessed by Pope Pius XII.

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