Cuba is a country of amazing architecture and a turbulent history. Because of its strategic geographical position, it was always a valuable island, and numerous fortifications had been erected to defend it from potential invaders. Most of these amazing fortresses survived to this day, serving as a monument of times long gone. But Cuba has palaces as well, who tell the other side of the story, the one of luxury and richness of the island. Here is our choice of the best castles and palaces on Cuba.
Major Historical Sites in Cuba
Castillo de la Real Fuerza
One of the most beautiful castles of Latin America was built in 1577, making it the oldest stone fortress built by the Spanish in that part of the world. It was built to fend off pirates, but as the threat of pirates declined over the years, it became the residence of the Governor of Havana. The castle’s watchtower, decorated with a statue of a woman (which is actually an exact replica of the statue on the top of the top of the Cathedral in Seville called La Giraldilla), is one of the symbols of Havana.
The inside of a castle hosts a few museums and a cafeteria, most notably the Museum de la Ceramica, which exhibits poetry (the entrance fee is only one dollar), and the Maritime Museum. The outside of the fortress is square shaped and divided into nine sections featuring architecture under the influence of Italian and French Renaissance.
One of the most known landmarks of Havana was built in the late 16th century; it was strategically built on a natural elevation at the entrance to Havana Harbor. It was greatly damaged during the British conquest in 1762, but Spain renovated it after retaking the city back, installing a new lighthouse which is today a major tourist attraction.
The stonecutting work done on the castle is especially beautiful and attractive to tourists, who can also see an exhibition of underwater archeology, or an overview of the lighthouses in Cuba. It’s also possible to explore the castle’s barracks, the defensive moat, cannons, guns, batteries, dungeons, its church, wells and even bathrooms. The entrance fee for the castle is $4, while the one for the lighthouse is $2.
Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
Located in Old Havana, the Plaza de Armas, to be precise, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was once the official residence of the governors of Havana. The works started in 1773: much of the material was brought from Spain to ensure only the best materials would be used.
It was finally completed in 1792, and then it served as a place to hold city council meetings (its sole purpose after 1920 when the presidential residence was relocated), as a prison, and, as previously mentioned, as the governors’ residence.
Nowadays it hosts art exhibitions and historical artifacts. Built under the influence of Baroque (and with only a few changes as the centuries passed), many of its rooms still have the authentic Colonial decorations. Its limestone façade is especially interesting as there are numerous marine fossils in the stones.
The Museum of the Revolution
The building now known as Museo de la Revolucion was once the Presidential Palace, hosting all presidents of independent Cuba to Fulgencio Batista. The building features various Neo-Classical elements and decorations from Tiffany & Co, interestingly, from New York.
After the Cuban revolution it became a Museum dedicated to the revolution, although the name Presidential Palace was officially used until 1959. Most of the museum’s exhibits are from the period of the revolutionary war in the fifties, but some are covering the Cuban War of Independence as well.
Interestingly, a SA-2 Guideline air missile is exhibited in the yard, a type of missile that shot a U.S. spy airplane during the famous Cuban Missile Crisis: the engine of the aircraft is exhibited as well.
Cuba features many other notable buildings: Havana’s architecture is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and the buildings described above should be only considered starting points when it comes to exploring this beautiful country.