University of Havana
The University of Havana in the Vedado neighbourhood is both free to explore and steeped in 300 years of history. Like a lot of the buildings in Havana, the University was designed with unspeakable architectural panache. Whether you're exploring the wide front steps, observing the Cuban way of student life, or taking a look at the buildings, you'll find your time on the grounds of Fidel Castro's former college are filled with interesting sights and beautiful detail.
The University of Havana was erected in the early 18th century and has been host to thousands of students each year. Although its accreditation, name, and location have changed several times throughout its tenure, the current incarnation of the university; where the municipalities of Vedado and Centro Habana meet, is the same as it was in 1902. Visitors will find this, the oldest university in Cuba, to be a remarkable stop during their stay in Havana. A storied institution, the University of Havana offers up an intimate look at the lineage of the nation as well as wondrous masonry and many an opportunity to snap more than a photo.
This institution has an extremely diverse and lengthy past that amply exhibits the marvellous talents of engineers and artists throughout its history. The interior is an elegant look at design during the beginning of the 20th century. An excellent demonstration of this is Aula Magna, a great hall where students and faculty meet for announcements, ceremonies, and assemblies. This hall houses beautiful and intricately painted murals that depict the seven original areas of study for students who attended the school prior to the Cuban Revolution in addition to classic stone and woodwork. The murals, or frescoes, were designed and painted by Armando Menocal and represent Law, Medicine, Liberal Arts, Thought, Science, Literature, and Art. Although these studies are still available, many more have been added since Fidel Castro's revolution. However, a great deal of these are held in other areas as opposed to the iconic La Colina (also referred to as The Hill).
The University of Havana's exterior has impressive metalwork and masonry for all to enjoy. The large set of stone steps at the main entrance of the university are world famous. This is also home to the Alma Mater statue, which was made using bronze and was modelled after one of the mathematics professors' daughters in the early 1900s. In addition to these features, there are alternate entrances that have large Latin inscriptions set in the stone overhead, clean and perfect columns with highly detailed decoration, and other bronze statues and plaques that tell of important alumni as well as specific university history.
The interior decorating isn't the only point of interest at this highly respected school. Students and visitors also have the opportunity to enjoy the university's main square where there are stone benches, bronze statues of various historical figures, and even a tank that alumnus Fidel Castro drove during the civil revolution that saw Fulgencio Batista's coup overthrown and the university re-opened in 1959. The inner walls of the courtyard are dotted with the odd plaque that pays homage to a time gone by. These reflect events that helped shape the school and its students over time. Some of the campus walkways have ornate stone inlay that creates a more regal look as well. One can escape the bustle of Havana by ducking out to visit the courtyard's park-like setting.
One of the most charming admission-free attractions in Cuba, the University of Havana is like a museum in and of itself that reveals the rich history of education in Havana while retaining its charm within a world of modernised schools. An easier way for the disabled to reach the university is through Calle J, from which you can access the building without having to climb the long stairway. There are plenty of aspects of the university for visitors to take a peek at, and there are stories to be shared around every corner and throughout the impressive halls.
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