Palacio De Los Capitanes Generales
A gem unlike any other, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was the headquarters of 65 General Captains (the Spanish title given to governors) and is jam-packed with things to admire and witness while in Old Havana. Originally intended to be the place of residence for the Spanish Governors of Cuba, this compound is a Baroque-era architectural masterpiece with astounding archways and interior décor that is not to be missed.
Located in the visited Plaza de Armas, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was built according to the plans drawn up by architect Antonio Fernández de Trebejos y Zaldívar, beginning in 1776 on the soil where a church of Havana initially stood. It was home to the monarchy-appointed Cuban Governors, who held offices in front of the Plaza de Armas, for the entirety of the 19th Century.
During this time, the city's town hall operated from the building, on the side facing Obispo Street with other portions of the same area being rented out to notaries and traders. The windows facing Calle Mercaderes show the area that was used as a jail, which was later used as housing for the US Administrator during the United States' Intervention in Cuba at the Republic's beginnings in the late 1890s.
After Cuba formally gained its independence in 1902, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales became Cuba's Presidential Headquarters until it was relocated to the Palacio de Presidential, or Museo de la Revolución in 1920.
The Museo de la Ciudad and its treasures
The Museo de la Ciudad (City's Museum) was created on December 11th, 1967 and is housed in the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. It was opened with the goals of displaying artefacts and commemorating key moments of Havana's history from its inception into the present day.
In fact, many items previously housed in other historically significant parts of the city have since been relocated here in order to protect them from being lost or damaged.
The museum has over 40 exhibits, which include photos documenting events that date back as far as the 1898 sinking of the United States warship USS Maine, antiques, ironworks, military uniforms, Cuban artwork, and even a horse carriage from the 1800s. The original La Girardilla, an infamous bronze weathervane from the tower of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza is within the Museo de la Ciudad as well, replaced by a replica for preservation purposes.
The Hall of Heroic Cuba houses Carlos Manuel de Céspedes's flag from the Cuban War for Independence as well as other flags from previous eras of leadership. There are additional exhibits such as the Espada Cemetery display that holds the tomb of famous French painter Jean Baptiste Vermay and a room that holds The Cenotaph, which is from Havana's Parroquial Mayor church and is the oldest of all Cuban monuments.
A feast for the designer's eye
The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is notorious for the finery within its walls and beyond the Baroque archways. Visitors are welcome to enter and see finishes and building materials of exceptional quality such as precious woods from Cuba and stone imported from Europe.
The intention was to create a luxurious home for those who oversaw the city for the Spanish rulers. There are marble floors, masterfully crafted wooden panels, grand chandeliers, and fine furnishings that give the whole building an exquisite atmosphere. The top floor is of main interest due to these luxuries being so carefully preserved throughout the last three centuries.
There is no doubt that visitors should check out the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales while travelling through Havana. It's the one place where you can see a vast collection of items that date back almost 300 years, covering aspects of history that range from Cuba's military, Spanish exploration, and political figures who have shaped the nation into the place it is today.
The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is open at 10:30 AM and closes at 5:00 PM Tuesday to Saturday and 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Sundays.
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.
Two young members of the Sarra family emigrated from Spain to seek their fortune in the Cuban colony. The museum at the Drogueria Sarra charts their huge success as they and their descendent created a pharma business, which by the turn of the 20th century was the second biggest worldwide.
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.
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