Connoisseur's Guide


Architectural Tourism Handbook by Andis Sīlis

MawlamyaingKyotoTokyoNorthern Provinces of LaosHavanaMunichPortoVicenzaValenciaLondon« BACK « TO BEGINNING


Add your e-mail address to receive our monthly news.


Jewellery by Artists: From Picasso to Koons, an exhibition organised by the culture and art portal

Connoisseur's Guide · North America · cuba · Havana · Architectural Tourism Handbook by Andis Sīlis


Author: Andis Sīlis0 COMMENTS


"Mind shattering" is one of the epithets used in the introduction of Connoisseur's Guide, describing architecture, and as to Havana - you couldn't say it better. Maybe you remember fragments of Wim Wender's Buena Vista Social Club or some other historical movie, grasping a genuine Havana feeling. As for me, the very essence of Cuba for a long time was Imaginary Cuba by Bill Laswell, featuring multilayered and emotional mix of melodies and city sounds.

Foto: HavanaFoto: Havana

Now I know that "in live" these sounds are even more impressive and together with a sweet Southern aroma, enfolding you on every step, it is what makes this travel an exciting experience for all six senses. Do not believe if you were told that tourists are robbed there and there is nothing to eat. Simple do not be like a tourist! Smile and surrender to the ambiance, and savor a surreal mix of former luxury and present day misery.

Foto: HavanaFoto: Havana

Tourist groups are always taken to a reconstructed part of the old city, on the right side from the Central Park and Prado. Restored houses, thanks to UNESCO money, would please any devotees of neat propriety. I would suggest, however, a slightly more extreme route - from the National Capitol in the direction of a port and a station, or past Havana's Chinatown in the direction of Malecon. Plaza Vieja still swarms with tourists, and you can have a bird's-eye-view of the city there, while smaller streets reveal a real exotic spirit of this place - an absolute poverty and indefinable lightness of being in the once over-decorated and evidently posh neighborhood. In the view of absolute lack of any financial resources, neoclassic and eclectic façades have gradually acquired charming weatherworn fadedness. Moreover, once in a while they have been brightly speckled with some paint, without historic or any other sense, just giving way to free improvisation and using any available color, stolen or otherwise obtained.

Foto: HavanaFoto: Havana

A must-see spot is Vedado area. Starting from 27th Street one can observe what results a revolution may have. An area of large and once splendid villas is inhabited by slaves and their descendants now. And I do not amplify - in Latvia (Jūrmala and Mežaparks areas) you could find maybe a handful of mansions like that. The former owners, with some taste and understanding of architectural language, cultivated in the course of centuries, were driven out of their properties some 50 years ago. A number of revolutionaries, munching bread obtained for vouchers, have doubled by now and they try to adapt houses for their current needs.

Foto: HavanaFoto: Havana

1st ground-floor rooms with mostly 5 meter high ceilings are reconstructed, building in some intermediate levels to acquire more space. It has been done without a slightest notion of the classic order and with no signs of intellect at all, for that matter. If a villa houses 3 to 4 families, the most thievish one, without any scruples, bricks up a symmetric façade with fibro-type blocks, packing them in between columns adorned with Corinthian caps. I wonder what a local UNESCO representative thinks of all that. I have to admit, it was a severe culture shock for me meaning a loss of last illusions as to usefulness of democracy in this brutal world.

Foto: Havana

Also take an opportunity of flying to Santiago de Cuba or going to Cienfuegos - both are UNESCO world heritage sites but otherwise quite similar. Beware of Trinidad, however - it's a small, freshly painted place, swarming with tourists. The most impressive architectural impressions these small towns unveil after nightfall, when wide open windows allow having a glimpse of private interiors of local revolutionaries - and there are sights to be seen! Beautiful entrance halls with lavishly decorated ceilings, partitioned with crooked veneer walls, a pile of gravel poured out in a corner, a toppled over bike and some shabby plastic chairs. A sluttish family sits in the middle of all that mess and gawks TV. Portraits of evicted owners hang on walls, the only source of light there being a crystal chandelier with mostly blown out bulbs and an antiquarian value that the new inhabitants have no idea of.

Facebook Twitter


Your comments

Unfortunately there are no comments yet.

Your name:

Time of visit:

Your comment: