Apr 202015

It is April 2015 and I have returned to Cuba.  This time I am traveling with a Cuban national, one of the approved ways of entering the country.

Our lady of the Assencion

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de las Asuncion

Santiago de Cuba, or Santiago, is the second largest and second most important city of Cuba.  However, the hospitality of the “Santiagueros” is second to none!

I began my tour with a walk around town at dusk, the temperatures in April hover in the 80s fahrenheit.

Parque cespedes

The Old San Carlos Social Club

This is the area around Parque Céspedes, Santiago’s most important plaza.  It, like the town, was once filled with large shade trees, sadly, the 2012 hurricane, Sandy, took over 30% of those trees down.

The church is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de las Asuncion (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption). The majority of this neo-classical building dates back to 1922, although some parts are more than 400 years old, earthquakes have not been kind to this grand lady.  It is said that the remains of colonial governor and Spanish painter Diego Velázquéz are interred here, but no one is positive.

On the east side of the parque is the Casa de la Cultura Miguel Matamoros.  This was the former site of the San Carlos Social Club where wealthy Santiagueros enjoyed themselves. The building was the spot of the first radio transmission in Santiago.

Hotel of Santiago de Cuba

The Hotel Casa Grande

The Hotel Casa Grande is one of Santiago’s grandest hotels. Novelist Graham Green was a periodic resident of the hotel. Opened in 1914, the hotel has an admirer with a lovely website about the architecture and history of the structure.

Casa del Gobierno

Casa del Gobierno

This white, Moorish influenced, building houses government offices and is not open to the public.

The Diego Velazquez House

The Diego Velazquez Home

The Velázquéz home was built in the early 1500s and thought to be the oldest residence in all of Cuba.  Governor/conquistador/painter, Diego Velázquéz, lived upstairs and the lower level was a gold foundry where the furnace can still be seen today. The house underwent restoration work in 1965 and now houses the Museo de Ambiente Historic Cuban, with a collection of furniture, porcelain, glass and other household items.

Diego Velazquez Home

Some of the magnificent ornamentation on the Velazquez Home

The home incorporates some of the traditional building techniques used in Santiago de Cuba.  Santiago sits in an active seismic zone.  Woven sticks of different sizes are packed with hay, rocks, clay, and other materials, these are then plastered over.  This creates strong walls flexible enough to give during seismic activity.

Pico Padre

Pico Padre

Further in our wanderings we came upon Santiago’s most famous stairway, Pico Padre. Mayor Emilio Bacardi ordered the construction of these stairs in 1899, to honor Santiago’s Catholic priest Bernardo del Pico Redin, well known for his charity work at Beléns Convent.  The street has 52 steps.

Padre Pico


View from Pico Padre

View from Pico Padre

Children looking down on Padre Pico

Children looking down on Pico Padre


Museo de la Lucha Clandes­tina

At the top of the steps and  little to the right you will find the Museo de la Lucha Clandes­tina (the Museum of the Clandestine Struggle).  The house, which sits in the Tivoli neighborhood, focuses on the activities of the resistance movement under local martyr Frank País. The residents of Santiago, along with the peasants in the Sierra Maestra, were instrumental in supporting the Revolution.


A house across the street from the museum

As the sun started to set we wandered homeward, here are some glimpses into that walk.

Santiago de Cuba


Santiago de Cuba



The view from Balcon de Valázquéz


El Balcon

Balcon de Valázquéz  – Felix Pena 612

Santiago de Cuba

Architecture of Santiago de Cuba

Santiago’s architecture is as varied as one can see in any city.


*Santiago de Cuba


Art Deco in Santiago

Art Deco in Santiago


The lack of cars in Cuba make for an easy pickup game of football




Jan 192015


DSC_7795The architecture of Cuba is filled with glorious, and rapidly deteriorating buildings.

Each large city in Cuba had its own distinct style but overridingly the architecture of Cuba is the definition of fusion. The 16th and 17th century was dominated by the Spanish, but you also have the Moorish influence from Granada. These all show touches of baroque and classical, and yet I was surprised to also see much Art Deco and Art Nouveau.Art Deco in Cuba


Decorative Wrought and Cast iron began to replace wood elements in the 19th century

Carved stone work is found all over the island most done in the 16 and 17th centuries.

Carved stone work is found all over the island most done in the 16 and 17th centuries.



Fine metal work is prolific, not just in the profusion of doors and grates but in lamps and lamp holders, door knockers and door knobs and corner guards protecting entryways from carriage wheels.


Fanlights, called mediopuntos, were designed to light rooms that opened off of a central enclosed patio.


In the countryside you will find colored glass over doorways and in high windows everywhere. It is odd, because it looks like a bad attempt to mimic stained glass windows carried out without much artistic thought. When you arrive in Havana you see the actual windows and realize how glorious the work is when done right. These glass windows are a distinct feature of Cuban architecture, and were described by Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier as “an interpreter between man and the sun”. The windows are set as to be enjoyed more from the interior than the exterior.



Ceramic tiles were shipped from Spain by the thousands, the more durable colored concrete tiles were used for flooring.

You can see remnants of what was likely a large use of decorative tile on floors and walls in some of the better preserved buildings. According to some, Cuba has the largest amalgamation of 19th century Spanish Valencia tiles

Outside of the cities you begin to see a large Caribbean influence in the architecture of homes.


DSC_5881In the countryside when visiting the coffee plantation we were able to view the construction of the typical farm home. Berto and Maria Colorado’s home is clay. While less expensive it is always dusty and this type of construction does not hold up well in hurricanes. Their son’s home, however, is wood, the problem being, getting wood in a country that is trying so hard to keep people from cutting down trees.

Characteristics of Havana architecture include Media Ponto Arch, Stained Glasss and long balconies.  The blue color is Havanian Blue .

Characteristics of Havana architecture include Media Ponto Arch, Stained Glasss and long balconies. 
The blue color is Havanian Blue .

The barrotes of the 18th century (seen here) were replaced in the 19th century by grilles decorated with ornamental motifs in the architecture of Trinidad

The barrotes or rejas of the 18th century (seen here) were replaced in the 19th century by grilles decorated with ornamental motifs in the architecture of Trinidad.  They were traditionally draped inside with a cloth or leather curtain called a guard-plovo to provide privacy and help keep the dust out.

Architecture in Cuba cannot be discussed without touching on the Russian Influence.

The Embassy in Cuba is without a doubt the most striking and overwhelming example. This constructivist building was completed in November of 1987, and designed by architect Aleksandr Rochegov.


There is also the Russian brutalism influence, but if these buildings were built as badly in Cuba as they were around the world, they will not be with us long.