Necropolis Cristóbal Colón Outdoor Art Gallery
By HGC / Photos by Ramón Iglesias Centéno
The downtown Vedado neighbourhood of Havana possesses the Colon Cemetery, named for Christopher Columbus and declared a National Heritage Monument in 1987 for its wealth of sculpture.
The burial ground was founded in 1871 based on a project by Galician architect Calixto Arellano de Loira y Cardoso and was originally placed outside the city limits. With the passage of time and the demographic, economic and social growth of the 19th Century, the city ended encircling it and today its main entrance is located at Zapata Street, close to the popular corner of 23 rd and 12th Streets.
A Byzantine-style entrance, named Puerta de la Paz (Gate of Peace), opens to the more than 800,000 graves. It is a beautiful triumphal arch with three gates, crowned by a truncated pyramid. On the top rest three marble statues representing three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, placed in 1901 and made by Cuban sculptor José Villalta Saavedra. The work bears the Latin inscription: Janua Sum Pacis, hence the name Gate of Peace.
Among the more than 500 major mausoleums, chapels, and family vaults, visitors and tourists might find the signatures of leading Cuban and foreign artists who honored the dead with their skills.
Considered one of the most beautiful and great cemeteries in the world, one can find Greco-Roman, Gothic, eclectic, Medieval, Greek, Egyptian, Neoclassic, military, renaissance, art nouveau, art deco, rationalist and modern styles with and without cherubs and other ornamentation.
This article would not be complete without noting at least one of the legends and myths embellishing the cemetery. On Third and F Streets is the most visited tomb, that of Amelia Goyri de Hoz, La Milagrosa (the Miraculous One). Amelia is said to have died in childbirth in 1901 and was buried with her stillborn child at her feet. Legend tells us that when her grave was later opened, the baby was cradled in her arms. Since then, Cubans pay homage and ask favors by knocking three times on the tombstone with one of its brass rings.
Many famous figures of Cuban history and arts are buried here. The list is quite long starting with war hero Máximo Gómez; it includes Jose Raul Capablanca, world chess champion between 1921 and 1927, Alejo Carpentier, Cuba's most important contemporary novelist; noted composer Hubert de Blanck, revolutionaries Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaría, filmmaker Santiago Alvarez and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, and on and on.
The cemetery's main artery is Cristobal Colon Avenue, lined with the major tombs like the 75-foot monument to the firefighters who lost their lives in the great fire of May 1890 in Havana, leading to an octagonal neo-Byzantine church named the Capilla Central.
Visits to the cemetery are daily from 8 to 5 with an entrance fee of CUC$ 1.00 and guided tours and cameras for CUC$ 5.00. Additional information may be obtained by calling to (537) 830-4517, 833-4196 or 832-1050.