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Havana’s colorful architecture is a product of its historical development. Havana of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a highly colored urban space. Chronicles written by Dutch, English, French and Spanish visitors provide an image of Havana as a city painted in blue and green. After all, this was the period in which the well-known “colonial blue” was born. These colors, of course, were highlighted by the highly elaborate roofs done in the Moorish style. All you have to do is gaze upon the old colonial house at the corner of Teniente Rey and Aguiar in the heart of Old Havana to see one of the best examples of Havana’s colonial architecture.
The nineteenth century witnessed a new addition to many of the buildings: stained-glass windows that bathed the architecture with color. Most of the houses surrounding Plaza Vieja, for instance, contain entrance porches, held up by slim arcades and columns that boast stained-glass details.
The Republican Period turned Havana into the eclectic city as it is known today. The majestic mansions of El Vedado are richly decorated both inside and out. Built in 1927, the home of siblings José Gómez Mena and María Luisa Gómez Mena at 17th Street on the corner of E, is a striking example.
Art deco decoration also made an appearance as seen in the Fausto Theatre on Paseo del Prado with its pure art deco façade faced with a mixture of white cement and stone dust that reflect color changes in its illumination.
Then there is the home of Catalina Lasa and Juan Pedro Baró on Paseo Street between 17th and 19th Streets in El Vedado, which is also a remarkable example of art deco. And an art deco pantheon with a stained-glass window with rose motifs was commissioned by Pedro to commemorate his wife’s early death.
The arrival of the Modernist Movement in Cuba marked another important turning point. In this case, Cuban gaze was redirected away from Europe. No longer were European styles simply copied. Instead, a distinct Cuban architectural culture was born, resulting from the adaptation to the climate and the use of native materials. This provided an important spark that gradually changed the image of the city. Architects such as Nicolás Arroyo, Gabriela Menéndez and Antonio Quintana were supported by artists such as Amelia Peláez, Wifredo Lam and René Portocarrero and buildings such as the Habana Libre Hotel, the Retiro Odontológico, and the Riviera Hotel were born.
The city is a reflection of the nation. Much like with the mixing of so many races and cultures, the architecture has benefited from the mixing of so many traditions making the eclectic buildings, in the words of architect Nicolás Quintana, “sing within the symphony of the city.” November 2014 This article formed part of the november 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
What’s On Havana What’s On La Habana What’s On La Havane November, 2014
English version Noviembre, 2014
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