cementerio de Colon habana Cuba español Colombus Cemetery in Vedado, Havana, Cuba, english version Cimetière de Colombus, Vedado, la habane, Cuba, Colombus Kirchhof, vedado, habana, kuba, Cimitero di Colombus, vedado, Avana, Cuba

More than century ago, the city was far from attaining its present size. From the air, we realize that the former gentle hills and rising and falling grounds of El Vedado are hardly perceptible in the web of streets, squares and avenues that today form one of the most beautiful districts of Cuba's capital city.

The Count de Pozos Dulces, Francisco de Frías y Jacob, was who sponsored the projects that gave the manorial charm of design to this area of Havana. It was planned as a residential zone for bourgeoisie, with their country mansions and small palaces in different styles ranging from neo-classical to eclectic. Arriving  at Vedado from old Havana along Malecón or via its interior streets and avenues such as Carlos III Avenue which was decorated with fountains, columns, sculptures and gardens, or via the old San Lázaro street, we were continually delighted by the beauty of this city, attractive in so many ways.

By these routes we discover, as guided by instinct, the gates and columns forming these reserved area  boundaries since the middle of the last century for the big city necropolis. Originally these were farm lands known as La Dionisia and San Antonio Chiquito. The oldest neighbors tell us that these roads were used by British troops during the siege of capital city in 1762. They took this route coming from the coast when they tried to reach the elevations where the Castle of Prince and the military Pyrotechnics were built years late.

The church bought these farms to build a cemetery. In Previous centuries, it was common practice to have burials inside churches but the population growing forced  Havana's Bishop, Juan José Diaz de Espada y Fernandez de Landa, to construct a burial ground in 1806. the place was named after him and dedicated to the memory of this illustrious man who was devoted to culture, public health and religion. But the capacity of cemetery was surpassed in less than 50 years, so in 1866 a Royal Decree authorized the construction of a new necropolis in the former chosen farmland. the first stone was laid in October 1871.

Tragic events took place in Havana on November 27th of that year: eight medical students were executed by a firing squad, charged with having desecrated the tomb of Gonzalo Castañón, an Spanish journalist. The students were subjected to turbulent proceedings which ended with the ban on burying their corpses within the walls of the new cemetery. Such a ban  is not misinterpretation because, according to the Register, the first burial that of Manuela Balido an African slave, took place in the cemetery in November 1868. three years before works started, the area was already used as a cemetery.

1868 also marked the beginning of  independence wars against Spanish domination, culminating in 1898 with United Stated entering into the Cuban Spanish war and the subsequent military presence in Cuba which lasted until the proclamation of Republic in 1902. The explosion of the American warship, the Maine in February 1898 became the justification for the United Stated participation in the war. The corpses or North American marines who were victims of the explosion were also buried in the necropolis. The history of cemetery has been intimately linked to history of the island with the course of time, it has been witness to the most diverse events.

the necropolis was designed by Spanish architect Calixti Aureliano Loira y Cardoso, winner of the competition held for that purpose. He planned a range of underground galleries inspired by the Roman catacombs. The first of them was named Tobias after the biblical figure who, out of love for his fellow creatures, dedicated his life to burying the abandoned dead and whom when he was blind and ill the Archangel Saint Ralph came as reward for this deeds. Paradoxically the young Loira died at the age of 33 and he was buried in the recently opened gallery.

the monument that best recalls the architect is the porch. Of noble Romanesque inspiration there are three gateways that allude to the Holy Trinity. It was built of same stone used to construct the palaces of the city. Towards on Mount Calvary and moving scene of Lazarus rising from the grave. Very impressive is the coronation, formed by sculptures that represent the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, showing the attributes with solemn expression of serene expectancy and at their feet, made from the same Carrara marble block the Latin saying JANUA SUM PACE (I am the door of peace)

The cemetery forms a rectangle of 56 hectares in the center of which is the chapel. Seen from the air it is like a jewel set in the intersection. In subsequent decades the place was filled with magnificent monuments that perpetuate the cult to the dead, practice since dawn of humanity to the present day by many civilizations.

This is a catholic cemetery, one that reflects the Latin roots of our culture in the same way as are reflected by the city, once far away from the cemetery but today just at its door. It is very different from the sever austerity in North America cemeteries or of those in countries of Lutheran influence. There is a multitude of sculptures of angels and saints, truncated columns, obelisks covered with mourning cloth, statues of Jesus and the Virgin, all trying to prevail in the face of this perishing apotheosis with the words used by Jesus to comfort his followers: "I am the Resurrection and the Life"

transcription of Eusebio Leal Spengler's speech included in "La Necropolis de Colon", "Habana Siempre" magazine collection

Copyright © 1997-2006 Casa Antigua, Vedado, Havana, Cuba All rights reserved worldwide
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