History & architecture
In 1909, Governor General Aubert decided to build a new venue for the Provincial Government where the old city wall used to be. The design was by architects Rodolfo Marurí (Cuba) and Paul Belau (Belgium) and the construction was commissioned to the General Contracting Company at a cost of over 1.5 million pesos.
By the end of 1917, First Lady Mariana Seva was captivated by the magnificence and superb location of this edifice. Through legal stunts, her husband, President Mario García Menocal, took possession of the building, still under construction, away from the Provincial Government and by 1918 it became the Presidential Palace. Works were finally completed in January, 1920, and the building was officially inaugurated.
The opulence of the building contrasts with its surroundings. One example is the Carrara marble main staircase. The exterior walls are made of stone and the interior walls were made of reinforced concrete. Curiously enough, the polychrome tiled cupola, finished in terracotta, with its four pendentives (decorated by E. Valderrama and M. González) was not part of the original design. Interior decoration, by Tiffani Studios, is nothing short of breathtaking with pieces by renowned Cuban artists Armando Menocal and Antonio Rodríguez Morey.
The building is an important part of post-revolutionary Cuban history. After the triumph of the Revolution, from 1959 to 1965, the building housed both the Government and the Council of Ministers and in 1965, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba was formed at the still Presidential Palace. In 1974, it became a museum dedicated to the Cuban Revolution, and two years later, it witnessed the approval of the 1976 Constitution. In 2010, it was declared National Monument.
The world-famous Tiffany’s of New York decorated the interior. Highlights here include the Salón de los Espejos, which is a replica of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, and the Salón Dorado (Golden Hall), made of yellow marble with gold embossing on the walls. Four canvases by Esteban Valderrama and Mariano Miguel González mounted on 18-carat gold sheets grace the walls. There are permanent exhibitions on the history of Cuban struggles from the 15th century to the present, including Che Guevara’s pipe and the uniform of Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo.
In March 1957 the palace was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Batista led by revolutionary student leader José Antonio Echeverría. Bullet holes from the failed attempt are still visible in the Palacio’s main stairway. The museum itself descends chronologically from the top floor starting with Cuba’s pre-Columbian culture and extending to the present-day. The downstairs rooms have some interesting exhibits on the 1953 Moncada attack and the life of Che Guevara. Most of the labels are in English and Spanish. In front of the building is a fragment of the former city wall, as well as an SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs. One hall is dedicated to the so-called Special Period.
Behind the museum (and included in the ticket price) is the Pabellón Granma, a memorial to the 18m yacht that carried Fidel Castro and 81 other revolutionaries from Tuxpán, Mexico, to Cuba in December 1956 to launch the Revolution. The boat, displayed behind glass, is surrounded by planes, vehicles and weapons used during the Revolutionary wars against Batista and in the Battle of Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs).
Admission details: CUC 5 (incl. camera); free under-12s.
Tour CUC 2 (Spanish only)