Revolution Square and Jose Marti Memorial
A sprawling complex of grey stone and concrete buildings, Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución may at first glance appear somewhat dour and lifeless. However, upon further observation, the square’s status as one of the city’s most storied public spaces becomes clear.
First of all, the so-called Revolutionary Plaza’s history actually goes back a bit further than that. The square was designed by Frenchman Jean Claude Forestier during the 1920s and was originally called the Plaza Cívica (Civic Plaza), but it was patriotically renamed after Fidel Castro’s rise to power.
The square itself measures about 72,000 square metres in size, making it one of the largest found anywhere in the world. It is used frequently for civic events including many historically-relevant speeches given by Fidel Castro himself, though its most famous event was likely a 1998 mass given by Pope John Paul II. The square was also home to the 2009 Paz Sin Fronteras (Peace Without Borders) Concert. Both of these events attracted over one million Cubans—about 10% of the entire island’s population!
Surrounding the square sit a variety of historically and culturally important buildings. Perhaps the most photographed is the Ministry of the Interior building, famous for a gigantic etching of revolutionary hero Che Guevara with the phrase “hasta la victoria siempre” (onwards to victory, always). In 2009 it was joined by a similar image of fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos on the neighboring telecommunications building, which also features a fine museum about Cuba’s postal service.
Other important buildings on the plaza include the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Cuba’s largest library, as well as Cuba’s National Theater. However, we have yet to discuss the plaza’s defining monument:
The Memorial José Martí
Rising 139 metres above the plaza below, the Memorial José Martí is perhaps Cuba’s most famous. The structure is made of white marble and takes the shape of a five-pointed star. It provides outstanding views of the Plaza as well as of the rest of Havana and out to sea, and the observation deck is accessible for a small fee.
At the foot of the memorial sits a 17 metre tall sculpture of Martí himself, seated in a contemplative pose. The base of the monument also contains a fine museum dedicated mostly to the life and work of Martí, though it also has a small section on the design and the history of the plaza and monument themselves.
The square is certainly worth a visit for history buffs or for curious tourists looking to learn a bit more about the history of the Cuban Revolution and the Wars of Independence.
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Visitors to the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana, Cuba will be delighted by the history, artwork, and acoustics of the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis, which is home to the Museo de Arte Religioso and Camerata Romeu (an exclusive female orchestra). Catch one of the amazing musical performances or tour the convent to see memorials of notable people of the past and truly appreciate the grand columns and stone flooring in this Catholic Franciscan place of worship.
At the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at the end of a short hike from Gran Piedra (Santiago de Cuba), Cafetal La Isabelica is an open air museum dedicated to Cuba's important coffee production. Learn how French farmers fleeting Haiti turned Cuba's south-eastern provinces into the main coffee growing region of the island.
The mystery hidden within its walls, secrets left untold until modern times, and its title as one of the oldest star forts in the Americas make Castillo de la Real Fuerza a must-see stop on your tour of Havana, Cuba. You'll love making your way through the paths to the centre of the fortress, which was originally built for keeping watch for invaders. At more than 400 years old, you'll have plenty to talk about when you return home after visiting this astonishing site and its impressive layout.
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