Diego Velazquez Museum
The Diego Velázquez Museum is situated in the oldest surviving building - not only in Santiago, but in the whole of Cuba. The principal building is the former residence of Diego Velázquez, the Spanish conquistador who conquered Cuba and created a number of important settlements. He first established Baracoa in 1511 and then Santiago de Cuba in 1514 and Havana a year later. His mark on Santigao was most significant and he was appointed first Spanish Governor of the island. The house was built between 1516 and 1530, and has remarkably survived the threat of fires and hurricanes over the centuries.
The oldest standing example of the colonial style in Cuba
The facade of the house was built in the Andalusian style and the Moorish influences are evident. (The Moors had only left mainland Spain at the end of the 15th century). The wooden lattice structures which cover the windows - known as mashrabiya in Arabic - enable the person inside to see out without being seen. This is a fascinating example of the connection between the North Africa and the Caribbean via the Spanish colonial adventures.
Typical of the era, the street level rooms had a commercial function and were originally a trading house, offices and a Spanish royal gold foundry. It is also thought that there were stables on this level. Velázquez lived and received visitors upstairs.
The Museum today
The museum was comprehensively restored in the late 1960s. At this time, the impressive cedar ceilings were replaced after a fire. In 1970 was inaugurated as the Museo de Ambiente Histórico Cubano.
Today, the museum replicates the life and times of the Spanish colonial era, which decoration from the 16th-19th centuries. Artefacts include furniture of British, French, Spanish and Cuban origin; Spanish ceramics and French porcelain. The design and decoration of the rooms demonstrate the wealth of the colonialists of that era, underpinned by the extraordinary trading opportunities brought about by Spanish exploration of Latin America. They also reveal the incongruous life of the expat at that time - the home was filled with the imported home comforts from Europe while the Caribbean culture of Cuba existed outside the front door.
The adjacent 19th-century neoclassical house was not part of the Velázquez residence, it is now part of the museum. It is painted blue and white and features an appealing patio.
Get InspirationAll about where to go and what you can do
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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