Basilica De San Francisco De Asis
Built by Franciscan Friars in the early 18th Century, the Basílica de San Francisco de Asís, or Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, is rich with Spanish, Cuban, and English history. It is located in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asís right, next to Avenida del Puerto and the Sacra Catedral Ortodoxa Griega de San Nicolás de Mira. The church and convent was, for a time, re-purposed for Anglican worship when the English assumed power, and it lost its dome, cross, and archway to numerous hurricanes.
The Basilica underwent restoration work between 1992 and 1995, currently has four separate spaces. The Basilica itself is where guests are able to enjoy choral and chamber concerts held by notable Cuban performers. The convent houses the museum with religious artwork lining the hallways. The tower was built during the Colonial Era when it was considered the highest lookout point in all of Havana. There may be quite the climb ahead of you, but the view is fabulous. Outside, the Madre Teresa de Calcuta Garden displays breathtaking greenery and contemporary sculptures, making this a unique and ethereal place.
A Fortune-Bearing Statue
Possibly one of the most interesting aspects of the Basílica de San Francisco de Asís is the statue of El Caballero de París (in English, The Paris Gentleman), one of the townspeople who frequented the streets of Havana. Unfortunately, El Caballero grew mentally-ill and became homeless. He was elegant, stubbornly dignified and refused money from good samaritans who took pity on him, and has become a memorable character due to this and his constant presence on the streets of Old Havana. This statue is located right in front of the basilica and is human-sized. Passers-by may wonder why his beard and hands seems to be so free of tarnish, and this is due to a superstition that dictates that rubbing the statue's beard (or hands) will bring good fortune.
The Museum of Sacred Art
Located in the nave of the convent, the Museo de Arte Religioso, or Museum of Sacred Art, offers exhibits of work done as far back as the 17th Century by world-renowned painters Vicente Escobar and José Nicolás de la Escalera. It also shows some items from when Pope John Paul II visited Havana in 1998. Another fascinating artefact includes the marriage records of people from the beginnings of the church and convent as other pieces of religious finery that use materials from the earth and sea in and around Cuba.
The Basilica touts some of the best acoustics; thanks in part to the high vaulted ceilings and stone floors. One of the resident acts is an all-female, award-winning string orchestra called Camerata Romeu. This strikingly talented group is the first female orchestra of its kind in Latin-America and the world and is known for producing lovely classical music that echoes hauntingly throughout the whole of the Basilica. The choral performances are also of note and should not be missed.
This second oldest place of worship in all of Cuba is a must-see location, opened during the day to all visitors and definitely won't disappoint.
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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.
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