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Culture, Architecture

Morro Castle, Real Fuerza, Cuban architecture, massive structures, Spanish king

Cuba has a tradition of architectural works dating back to colonial days. Some of Cuba’s most important buildings were constructed as early as the 16th century. The fortresses of El Castillo de la Real Fuerza (1560) and the famous Morro de la Habana (1590) (known in English as Morro Castle) introduced the baroque style prevalent in Spain, characterized by massive structures and large windows accented with iron filigree.

Moreover, major cities such as Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas, and Trinidad were built following the 1573 Ordinances of Philip II. These regulations, issued by the Spanish king, required a cathedral, the administrative office buildings, and a governor’s palace to occupy the four sides of a city’s central plaza. Cities were laid out in a grid that expanded as the urban population grew. Homes, churches, and some public buildings added the stained glass windows of Arabic origin that gave Cuban architecture its specific character.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the cities grew, giving rise to the fortress of El Morro de Santiago de Cuba (1633), the Cathedral of Havana (1787-1811), Santa Clara and San Agustin convents in Havana (17th century), Santa Maria Rosario church (1779), and The Plaza de Armas of Havana (1772). The romantic buildings of the 19th century followed the same traditions established in the early colonial period. In the mid-20th century, Cuban architecture took on the daring attributes of several new internationalist styles, particularly that of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, whose works blended neo-gothic, art nouveau, and surrealist influences. Residences in Havana’s Miramar and Siboney neighborhoods exhibit these traits while retaining an open air, tropical ambiance.

After the revolution, architecture followed a single, utilitarian path, with new buildings constructed to be practical and economical. Most architectural structures built after 1959 were apartment cities in suburban areas and in the countryside intended to house the poor and professionals who did not have homes. The architecture rarely varied from the prescribed Soviet styles. An apartment building in the Soviet style, usually three stories high, consists of units with up to three bedrooms and one bath, a tiny kitchen, and a laundry balcony. These rectangular apartment buildings were built with concrete blocks, and pressed marble was used for the floors. Revolutionary-era school buildings also followed the heavy, utilitarian, Soviet model that makes a distinctive landmark among the more tropical and colonial buildings that were built before 1959.

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