Iberostar Parque Central, the Inglaterra faces Central Park and has a rooftop terrace with great views of the old city. We almost chose to stay at the 1908 4-storied Hotel Sevilla because of its beautiful façade which has been described as “Moorish Revivial”. But I also see elements of Art Nouveau in the portico, which reminds me of Hector Guimard's Paris metro station design. The Sevilla was featured in the Graham Green novel “Our Man In Havana”, which was turned into a 1959 movie starring Alec Guinness. Completed in 1888 in Neo-Classical style, the Hotel Saratoga was originally named the Grand Alcazar until it was renamed the Saratoga in 1933. Famous guests including Jay-Z and Beyonce, Madonna, and Will Smith have stayed here in what we were told is one of the priciest hotels in the city.
We got a closer look at the Capital Building (El Capitolio), which we first saw from the rooftop terrace of our hotel. The building was commissioned by Cuban president Gerardo Machado and built in the late 1920s, using the domed cupola of the US Capital Building in Washington D.C. as inspiration. It has been under renovation since 2013 and will be used as home of Cuba’s National Assembly. We tried for several days to see if we could get inside but the doors were never open. We were disappointed since photos on the Internet show that it is beautifully decorated, especially the gilded bronze “Statue of the Republic” in the main hall. The front entrance of the Capitolo is flanked by two massive bronze sculptures. The male figure represents the progress of human activity and the female figure represents the guardian of virtue. Just south of the Capital Building is the Fountain of India, a white marble fountain sculpted in 1837 in the Neoclassical style. It depicts an Indian girl holding the city coat of arms in her right hand and the horn of plenty in her left.
Originally built in 1838 as the Tacón Theatre, the magnificent Neo-Baroque styled Gran Theatro de Havana is by far the grandest structure in Old Havana. The architect Paul Belau also designed the Presidential Palace, which is now the Museum of Revolution. The elaborate façade is decorated by ornate stone adornments and bronze works as well as white marble sculptures by Guiseppe Moretti which represent charity, education, music and theatre. The Gran Teatro is currently is home to the Cuban National Ballet and to the International Ballet Festival of Havana with facilities including the 1500-seat Garcia Lorca Auditorium, a concert hall, conference rooms, a video screening room, an art gallery, a choral center and several rehearsal halls for dance companies. Once again from the rooftop terrace of our hotel, we have a stunning view of the Grand Theatre and the Hotel Inglaterra next to it. We went up one evening to see both of them lit up at night.
We had walked by the Grand Theatre for several days prior to being able to take a tour of the building. Each time when we looked through the open doors, we could see the elegant bronze sculpture of a ballerina en pointe. When we finally took the tour of the theatre, we found out that this is a sculpture of the Cuban prima ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso, best known for her portrayals of Giselle and Carmen. Alicia started dancing at age 10 and performed with ballet companies from Cuba, United States (American Ballet Theatre) and Russia (Ballet Russe) until age 78, despite dealing with major vision problems including glaucoma and a detached retina throughout her entire career. While living in New York City from 1937-48, Alonso underwent multiple major surgeries including having her retina completely removed, cleansed and reinserted, and being forced to lie motionless for an entire year after a third operation. Despite these setbacks, she was able to return to dancing and was considered the greatest ballerinas of her time. Towards the end, she was nearly blind as she continued to dance difficult roles such as Carmen. Returning to Cuba in 1948 with her husband Fernando, Alicia founded the Alicia Alonso Ballet Company which eventually became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. In addition to the sculpture, there are multiple displays honouring Alonso, including full-sized photographs of her in her iconic roles and a chronological history of her roles at the theatre.
first Biennale exhibition opening that we attended on our second day in Havana. This exhibition featured as many sculptures and mixed media as it did paintings and the juxtaposition against the beautiful historic setting heightened and accentuated the cool factor of the mostly contemporary pieces. My favourite was an etagere display case that you could walk all the way around to inspect. It had a set of drawers at the bottom and eight shelves, each holding a small sculpture of one or more humanoid figures made from capless tubes of toothpaste. The figures were posed in various positions including a pair getting amorous on a sofa made from wine corks. On the back of the cabinet was a cheeky painting (pun intended) of a nude figure with a male face drawn on each of his butt cheeks. I’m not sure if these were portraits of specific historic figures since I did not recognize them.