Havana Capitol Building

Beside the theatre is the landmark Havana Capitol Building– el Capitolio.

Havana -El Capitolio – The Capitol Building

Built in a neo-classical style, el Capitolio is reminiscent of the American White House - but uniquely Cuban.

Havana –Domed Entrance of the Capital Building

Until the 1959 Cuban revolution, the House of Representatives and Senate operated from here. Now it houses the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.

Havana Capitol Building Long View

On my first six visits to Cuba, a tired annex at the rounded end of the Capitol Building was where I went for my internet connection.

There are now many more options for a connection but none of them offer connection speeds that are approaching fast.

In the early 2000s you could stare out at this park while the slow connections toiled away and your Cuban friends, not permitted officially to have an account, would eagerly watch over your shoulder.

Now that Cubans can have an intranet account from which they can send or receive email (at a not low cost) the queues outside the connection points are long - as is the waiting time.

So if your Cuban friends don't seem to be very responsive to your emails - recognise that they may not have enough money to connect, may not have had enough time before the connection time timed out (which, given the slowness of the connections happened to me on the internet more than once just as I was able to see I had email - poof - time had expired), or have got to the queue too late.

Havana Capitol Building from the park – Habana Viejo

But in contrast to the worn out Internet section of the Capitol Building, on the other side is a lovely terrace bar - a cool place to relax in the afternoons.

Havana terrace bar at the Capitol Building

The Capitol is worth visiting as there is so much to discover within. It is something of a grand allegory of the hopes of a free nation - and the architecture and art reflect these aspirations.

In 2011 it was closed for renovations and I did not see any sign of when it would re-open. Finally in March 2018 it was again open to visit - just in time for the selection of the next president to folow Raul Castro. 

It really is magnificent. Put it on your list of things to see in Havana.

The dome was inspired by that in the Pantheon in Paris.

Havana Capital Buidling Dome – El Capitolio

Beneath it stands the massive Statue of the Republic (La Estatua de la República) by Zanelli cast in 1929.

Once totally covered in 3 sheets of 22 Carat (92%) gold leaf, now mostly worn off, she stands ready to fight alongside her countrymen  with her spear, her shield and wearing her Phrygian cap – a type of cap that in the days of the Roman Empire signified Freedom and Liberty.

Lily Valtry is generally attributed as being the model, but in fact while hers is the body - the face was modelled on Elena de Cardenas, one of the most beautiful women in Havana at the time.

The statue was moulded in three parts in Rome and travelled via Naples to be reassembled in the Capitol building just a few steps from the inset diamond that once sat here to mark the zero point from which all distances in Cuba are measured (even today – without the diamond, which famously disappeared in the 1940s, reappearing mysteriously in a desk drawer of the then President Grau). Reputedly the diamond is now stored in a safe place, a replica replacing it.

I don’t know about you but a safe place in our household was always a code phrase for 'lost until found again by accident…or never to be found again'.

Havana Statue of the Republic La Estatua de la República – El Capitolio

The statue itself is hollow but still weighs 49 tons. It has springs inside to help support it and – a real secret Havana destination – has a tunnel into it from a room nearby.

Exit from escape tunnel from Capitol Building Havana

Like most secret tunnels, time has a way of unveiling the secret through other, less secretive works - often verifying local word-of-mouth stories of their existence – and so it was here.

EScape tunnel from Capitol Building Havana

 Standing 15 m (49¼ ft) high, when mounted on a marble plinth the Statue of the Republic reaches 17.54m (55¼ ft).

Once it was the tallest internal sculpture in the world – until bested by that of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

Leading away from the statue, the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos  or Hall of Lost Steps is magnificent – and true to its name, muffles the noise of footsteps.

Havana Capital Building Hall of Lost Steps

Splendid brass candelabra line the way.

Havana Capital Building Candelabra lining Hall of Lost Steps

Equally grand are the meeting rooms above.

Havana Capital Building Meeting room with chandelier

These have  more fantastic brass candelabra and chandeliers – all with energy saving light bulbs!

Havana Capital Building Candelabra – El Capitolio

The Havana Capitol Building is a place full of pattern: on friezes, cornices, columns, doors…

Havana Capitol Building Ceiling, chandelier and carved door

…even patterns in the brass railings and grills…

Havana Capitol Building patterns in interior design with brass grill

Each ceiling of the cCapitol Building is a work of art in itself.

Havana Capitol Building patterned ceiling

John Louis Cole said:

Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles .

When you visit El Capitolio, the Capitol Building of the Republic of Cuba that was once the seat of parliament, you will find it to be a place where art saturates the senses. Here it seems possible that Cuba is waiting to burst forward into a miracle of possibilities.