Seminario De San Carlos Y San Ambrosio

Founded in 1689, El Colegio de San Ambrosio was not originally the ambitious place of learning that it would eventually become. In fact, it was in 1777 that the once humble school moved into an impressive baroque building once occupied by Jesuits and became a seminary renowned as a centre for higher learning. Though the school itself was recently moved, the Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio remains a top attraction in Havana, Cuba for both its architecture and its historic nature.

As you explore Old Havana, a massive, architecturally impressive building adjacent to the city’s cathedral might catch your eye. If you investigate today, you’ll find that this building is currently home to the Centro Cultural Padre Felix Varela (Father Felix Varela Cultural Centre). However—and until quite recently in fact—this was not always the case. For most of its history, this building was actually the Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio.

The Seminary’s History

Technically, the roots of the Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio can be traced back to an earlier school, called El Colegio de San Ambrosio. This one was located on Calle Compostela alongside the home of the Catholic bishop who ran it; it provided free education to a small group of talented yet poor boys in hopes of encouraging them to study for priesthood.

Between 1689 and 1777 the school operated within this realm, growing slowly with time but mostly maintaining its original purpose and character. However, in the latter year, things changed dramatically, when the school itself would become a seminary. In that year, the school would also move into its now iconic home. The impressive baroque construction was originally inhabited by the Jesuit order of priests, who had begun construction on it in 1700. However, they were expelled from the Spanish empire in 1767 and as such the new seminary moved in a few years later.

During the following period, the golden age of the Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio began. For many years the school competed with or even excelled past the island’s universities, especially when it came to subjects like chemistry, botany, and physics. Students and teachers from this period went on to play important roles in Cuban history, such as revolutionary leader Carlos Manuel de Cespedes and Cuban independence proponents Félix Varela y Morales and Jose Antonio Saco y Lopez Cisneros.

The Seminary Today

A massive change took place to the seminary in 1950, when a second façade was added to the building. Inspired by the adjacent cathedral, the architects did a good job of keeping this façade in line with the building’s original character. Notable features of the building today include its elegant lines as well as the small stone statues positioned around its gates.

The seminary itself moved to a new campus in Guanabacoa in 2010; nowadays the old building is a cultural centre and some parts can be explored. It features a lovely and tranquil courtyard, as well as a library.

Though it’s not a standard tourist destination by any stretch of the imagination, this is part of what makes the Seminario de San Carlos y San Ambrosio special. Come for an under-the-radar Cuban history experience that many of your fellow tourists will pass by without thinking twice!


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