April 14, 2002
Work started on this enormous cemetery in 1868 and the Spanish architect, Calixto de Loira, who laid out it's strict block pattern of numbered streets and avenues lined with tombs and mausoleums became one of it's first permanent residents after his premature death shortly after completion in 1871. The five square kilometers of former farm land now contain the remains of nearly one million people, making this the largest cemetery in Cuba and one of the largest in the whole of Latin America, and the number continues to rise as the cemetery is still in use over 100 years later.
De Loira's neo-gothic Trinity gateway, topped by a sculpture of Faith, Hope & Charity stands resplendent on an otherwise dull street, beckoning in the passer by, entrance $1 for tourists. While the center of the complex is dominated 1886 Romanesque Octagonal Chapel. Both are extraordinary works of art in their own right and well worth a look. Among the people who are buried here are independence leader General Maximo Gomez, the martyrs of the Granma landing, and Amelia Goyri dela Hoz, who is accredited with miraculous powers after the body of her baby buried at her feet was found to have moved into her arms.
The cemetery was also the location for two of the key moments in modern Cuban political history. It was here in 1951 at the burial of political crusader Eduardo Chibas, who committed suicide live on radio, that Fidel Castro made his first public speech, jumping on top of the grave and denouncing the current regime. Castro, now president, would make history here again on April 16 1961 when at a service for people killed during a counter-revolutionary raid the previous day he would for the first time announce that his revolution was socialist in nature.
The somber atmosphere, shady tree lined avenues, and spectacular tombs make this city within a city worthy of a brief visit, but there is nothing here really worth coming out of your way for unless you are a particular fan of graveyards.
From journal Havana Ball