Dr. José Sarrá and his uncle Valentine Catala were Catalan entrepreneurs and apothecaries who sought their fortune in Cuba. Together, they founded the Sarrá Pharmacy in Havana in 1853 with the aim of providing quality pharmaceutical products at reasonable prices. They and successive generations of their family created a business empire with a reach beyond Cuba's shores and left their fingerprints on some of Havana's most iconic buildings. Part of the original pharmacy is now a museum.
The most important pharmacy in Havana - and in Latin America
Sarrá selected the location for the pharmacy, in Old Havana, ideal for the development of medications. He called the pharmacy "La Reunión" (the meeting or unification) in order to symbolise his method of bringing together traditional and homeopathic pharmacies.
A laboratory was established which soon supplied ointments, salts, syrups and extracts to hospitals and other pharmacists throughout Cuba. Successive business partners expanded the premises and their activities, launching products which became national favourites, such as Sarrá Magnesia.
By the time independence had been achieved from Spain, the business had become one of the most important in Cuba with 46 buildings, 600 employees and over 500 products. It was the largest drugstore in Cuba and Latin America and the second biggest in the world after "Johnson" in the US.
The Sarrá brand and pharmacy today
The original La Reunión premises in Old Havana, now occupy more than 45 buildings of around 40,000 m2 (430 sq. ft). In 2004, part of the buildings was converted into a museum and this is a popular stop on any walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Havana.
In an ambience of fin de siècle splendour, visitors can see the instruments, jars, bottles, pestles and mortars and other equipment used by the Sarrá pharmacists.
The "Sarrá Award" which is still granted annually to the best student of pharmacy at the University of Havana.
For those interested in Havana's art nouveau architecture, the palace which now houses the Spanish Embassy, built in 1912, and next to the Bay's entrance, is also part of the Sarrá legacy.
Get InspirationAll about where to go and what you can do
Christopher Columbus Cemetery (or Cementerio de Colon in Spanish) is generally recognised as the most historically and architecturally important cemetery in Latin America. Home to over a million interred bodies including politicians, musicians, writers, artists, military heroes, and religious figures from both Cuba and around the world, this landmark of the Vedado neighbourhood is worth a visit for any culturally- or historically-inclined traveller.
For visitors interested in Cuba's history, Chorro de Maita is a popular day excursion from nearby Holguin and the resorts of Guardalavaca. The archaeological site, reconstructed Taino village and museum offer a vivid insight into the lives of indigenous Cubans around the early years of the Spanish colonisation.
As you explore Santiago, it's tough to miss this stunning building across the way from the Palacio Provincial. The Bacardi Museum, as it's often simply called in English, is housed in an architecturally impressive building with neoclassical flourishes. One of Cuba's oldest museums, this place is home to archaeological discoveries, an impressive Spanish art collection, exhibits on Cuban history, and the only Egyptian mummy found anywhere on the island!
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