The sports coliseum of Havana's Ciudad Deportiva (Sports City) is by no means Wembley Stadium, which was born-again at the cost of £800 million. Neither is it one of those structures in which you breathe the scent of modernity, nor does it show among the top 10 in any magazine ranking sports facilities. It is, and this it is for sure, a historic scenario in whose court memorable athletes from various disciplines like basketball, volleyball, and boxing have given it their all.
All you need to know about this sports city in Cuba's capital
Located on the intersection of Boyeros and Vía Blanca Avenues, within Havana’s Cerro municipality; the Sports City Coliseum houses the central office and main headquarters of INDER; an organisation whose initials stand for The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Institute. This institution directs and oversees the country’s athletic activities and annually hosts numerous international events, among them the World Volleyball League and the Boxing World Series.
While this coliseum was built in 1957 time has not prevented it from still being deemed an outstanding work of Cuban civil engineering. Its reinforced concrete dome is 95 metres in diameter and is made of translucent tiles placed in such way that the sun rays go through creating a strong beam of light over a central court in which volleyball, basketball, rhythmic gymnastics and musical aerobics, are all practiced.
The building of this architectural marvel; a pride for the habaneros (natives of Havana), cost a total of $4 million Cuban pesos. An American company was responsible for the dome’s construction while Cuban engineers and workers from the former Ministry of Public Works were entrusted with erecting the rest of the structure.
The coliseum offers capacity for up to 20,000 visitors and one of its outstanding features is its efficient exit system, which enables the building to be completely vacated in only 5 minutes.
Havana’s epicentre of sports
But the coliseum is only the main piece of an impressive design. This is due to the fact that the actual Sports City (La Ciudad Deportiva) spreads out to its surroundings (hence why it has the word “city” in its name and not “centre” for example). Its area covers more than 84 hectares and it features an athletics track, baseball fields for adults and children, a creole ball field, an indoor football area, basketball courts, tennis courts, a weights area with an outdoor gym, and a swimming pool complex.
The initial project included even greater diversity, but not all the plans were carried out. Still, the venue is nothing short of remarkable and it quickly attracted the attention of those who loved practicing sports, and who for decades have flooded its sporting areas seven days a week, disregarding the scorching sun or the steadfast rain.
But let’s get back to the coliseum, the shrine in which so many illustrious individuals have left their mark and so many important events have taken place.
The coliseum was the site chosen in 1959 to keep a vigil over the corpse of Ramón Fonst Segundo, an exceptional fencing champion and the first Cuban ever to win an Olympic gold medal in the epee competition of the 1900 Olympic Games.
It has also been the training ground of many of the greatest sports personalities in Cuba’s history, from individual athletes to team champions in various disciplines. It also hosted the 1966 World Chess Olympics, the 1969 Fencing World Championship; the 1971 World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championship; the 1973 World Weightlifting Championship; and the 1973 World Boxing Championship.
And adding to its historic value, this coliseum was also the venue chosen for the 1961 trial of the U.S. mercenaries who invaded Cuban territory through Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs.
Make an obligatory stop to catch a sporting event
Last May and July the Sports City Coliseum saw Cuba’s national volleyball team compete in a series of matches as part of II of World Volleyball League. It was a wonderful opportunity for locals and tourists to see how the Cuban team plays from home, all for a mere 3 CUC.
La Ciudad Deportiva is an emblem to the capital city with unique heritage value for the country. It’s one of those places that fitness fanatics and sports lovers cannot miss while visiting Cuba. It’s to Cuba what Wembley to England, not nearly as dazzling as Wembley, but equally important and indispensable.