Robaina's plantation

Monday 14 September 2015

Palacio Presidencial & Museo de la Revolución (Havana)

                I visited this place several years ago for the first time although I drive by it many times during each of my trips to Cuba. I didn't post about it then or up until now because I deemed it too political. Having thought about it again I've decided to do it now without including the political twist or dramatizing it.... The former Presidential Palace is now the Museum of the Revolution but just the treasured works of art alone make this a museum worth visiting. There is anti-imperialist sentiment in some of the displays that border on nasty but for content on the history of Cuba and it's Revolutions there is no better place. The main building contains 38 rooms that are visited annually by more than 300 thousand people, this is one of the most visited museums in the country. The most current addition to the site is the Pavillón Granma (Granma Memorial) behind the palace. A large glass enclosure houses the Granma, the 18m boat used by Fidel Castro with 81 other revolutionaries coming from Tuxpán, Mexico to start the Revolution in December 1956. There's even the SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs....among other objects or vehicles associated with the Revolution.
                  Here is a brief history of the Palace..... In 1909, General Ernesto Asbert, then governor of Havana, decided to build a new headquarters to house the Provincial Government. The project was designed by the architects Rodolfo Maruri (a Cuban) and Paul Belau (a Belgian), while the construction phase was assumed by the General Contracting Company. Meanwhile the interior decoration was made the responsibility of Tiffany Studios of the famous Tiffany House in New York, over a million and half dollars were spent....a lot of money in those days (18 1/2 million in today's dollars). The floors and stairs that were made from the famous marble of Carrara, Italy, alone cost more than half a million dollars.
                   In 1917 the history of the property was decided by the First Lady of the Republic, Mariana Seva. After visiting the site later that year and being overwhelmed by it's magnificence, she convinced her husband Mario Garcia Menocal, the President of the country, to dispossess the Provincial Government and convert the property into the Presidential Palace. And so in early 1918 everything was arranged for the building located at No.1 Refugio to become the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Cuba. The construction work on the palace continued and finally on 31 January 1920 it saw the official opening of the executive mansion & inaugurated as the Presidential Palace by president Menocal with the inaugural ball being one of the most important social events of Havana at the time. The detailed work on the mansion was not completed until March 12, 1920.
                  The building has four stories and is square in appearance. The ground floor accommodated the Security Units (garrison), call center (switchboard), branch offices, power plant and stables (and later the garage), because at the time of the inauguration there wasn't widespread car use in Cuba. The second floor was where the offices of the President were located as well as the Cabinet Room, the Hall of Mirrors (Salón de los Espejos was designed to resemble the eponymous room at the Palace of Versailles), a chapel, telegraph room and the Golden Hall (a large dining room accommodating 46 diners). This floor also contained the large Terrace facing North where Presidents could view passing parades. The facade opens to Calle Refugio, giving a broad perspective from the building. The third floor is completely dedicated to the private rooms of the President of the Republic and his family. The fourth floor was for the aides of the Head of State offices....and something else I wasn't clear on. It remained the Presidential Palace until 1959 and was still used by the current goverment until 1965. It became the Museum of the Revolution in 1974. In 2010, it was declared National Monument.
                Most of the exhibits on display in the mansion are dedicated to Castro Revolution and Cuba's history thereafter. However, some of the displays are that of the other revolutions including the War of Independence against Spain.
                In conclusion; the historical value of the building itself and it's contents are worth a visit. The fact that it's an opportunity to embellish the cause you can take however you want, there is no right or wrong way. I prefer to keep my views to myself or in discussion with friends both on and off the island in private. I hope I've done a decent job of keeping this post as neutral as possible. It costs 8cuc to enter (the most I've paid for any museum) and you can easily spend more than an hour here between the two sites. I read somewhere that it's a two hour visit. There's a lot to read and it's in English as well as Spanish. I almost forgot, they make you leave bags or knapsacks at the entrance so keep that in mind, I wouldn't want to leave any valuables with strangers.

Refugio No.1
e/ Avenida de las Misiones y Zulueta,
La Habana Vieja, Havana
tel. +53 7 8601524
Tuesday to Saturday from 1:00 pm to 6.00pm,
Sunday 10.00am to 1.00pm (closed Mondays)

Foto taken from: who say they are "estudios en la cultura y la historia de Cuba". Nice Site


Hall of Mirrors (Salón de los Espejos)

Golden Hall

Hall of Mirrors (Salón de los Espejos)

President's Office

Replica of the Fulgencio Batista's Golden Telephone which was made entirely of gold

President's Office

Cabinet Room


Pavillón Granma

Truck used to carry 42 of the rebels who took part in the attack on the Presidential Palace on 
March 13, 1957

SAU-100 tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs

Hawker Sea Fury F50

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