In a city full of architectural wonders, Havana’s El Templete still manages to stand out. According to architectural historians, it was the first neoclassical construction in the city of Havana, and one of the most influential buildings in terms of what came next.
The Greco-Roman temple-style construction was inaugurated on March 19th, 1828 and was originally dedicated as an homage to the Spanish monarch Queen Josefa Amalia, wife of the ruling King Fernando VII.
Though Queen Josefa is now long gone, El Templete continues to serve its other purpos, to commemorate the founding of the modern city of Havana. Located across from the Plaza de Armas, supposedly the site of the city’s founding, the Ceiba tree on the grounds here replaces the original under which the city’s first mass and town council meetings were held.
El Templete, a Foundational and Commemorative Landmark
Entering El Templete, you’ll immediately notice the three massive canvases adorning the walls of the small building. The scenes depicted here are not random; they are Havana’s first mass, its first town council meeting, and a formal blessing ceremony led by a bishop with many of the town’s important citizens in attendance. The latter, significantly larger than the other two, was actually painted separately and added to El Templete later on. The artist behind all three paintings was the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Vermay, and his remains along with those of his wife are also found entombed here. The large bust in the room depicts his image.
Outside, underneath the commemorative Ceiba tree, a very interesting ritual is known to take place. Each November 16th, crowds numbering in the thousands meet up to circle the tree three times, toss coins at its base, and make three wishes—but even if you’re not around on this day, it’s very likely that you’ll find at least a few people trying it out! This has roots in Afro-Cuban religious traditions but is now more of a secular superstition and celebration.
El Templete Restaurant
The name “El Templete” is also shared by a nearby restaurant, an upscale place focusing primarily on seafood that surprises many guests as one of Havana’s best eateries. Reopened by the Cuban government in 2004, El Templete is a must for seafood lovers—it’s without a doubt one of the better examples of Havana’s government-run dining establishments for both its warm, well-mannered service and the superb quality of its food.
El Templete is also unique in the way that it ties visual art into the dining experience. Besides the artwork hung throughout the restaurant itself, a different Cuban artist actually illustrates the ever-changing menu each month. For this reason, El Templete is one of Havana’s most popular spots for both successful artists and simple lovers of art.
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