emblematic architectural treasure
• The designated
National Heritage Site is being completely restored
for the first time since its inauguration in 1929
Arianna Barredo Ramos
THE Cuban national capitol’s
restoration is an effort of colossal dimensions,
requiring work in a diverse set of arts and trades,
in bronze, plaster, gold, carpentry… and the work on
the building’s cupola is very complicated, Havana
City Historian Eusebio Leal explained to Prensa
Actually initiated at the end of last year, the
restoration is the most comprehensive ever of the
edifice which was inaugurated in 1929, according to
Mariela Mulet, lead project manager.
Fortunately the Capitolio, located in Central Havana,
is not structurally damaged, definitely an asset,
she reported, but its internal systems are in very
Mulet said that, at this time, the mezzanine’s tile
floor has been repaired and work is underway on the
cupola which, given its proportions and silhouette,
recalls St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Leal added that the restoration includes work on
outdoor patios, gardens and sculpture, in addition
to all the interior accessories within the Salón de
los Pasos Perdidos (The Hall of the Lost Steps) -
furniture, fittings, curtains, etc.
Being repaired is all of the stone from Capellanía,
used in decorative work around the world given its
hardness and uniformity, but susceptible to climate
damage in Cuba.
Also complete is restoration of the area beneath the
grand staircase, approximately 36 meters wide and 28
long, originally designed as storage and now
returned to its original purpose.
At the top of the grand stairway’s 55 steps,
guarding the main entrance, are two bronze statues
on granite bases, currently being restored. They
were created by Italian artist Angelo Zanelli, also
responsible for the frieze on the famous monument in
Rome to Victor Manuel II, the country’s first king.
Both six-meter figures, one female, the other male,
were cast in Naples and respectively represent the
progress of human activity and the people’s virtue.
Zanelli also sculpted the bronze, gold plated
República, which at 17 meters in height, on a black
marble base, is the world’s third largest indoor
statue, surpassed in size only by the Japanese Nada
Buddha and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
In exterior areas, between the Paseo del Prado and
Dragones, Industria and San José Streets, the
granite paving was 80% damaged and is being
The decorative lamp posts faced a similar fate and
according to the project manager, all the exterior
illumination will be new.
At the same time, all of the building’s wooden trim
and bronze lighting fixtures are being renovated,
Mulet reported. Some of these were made in the
Saunier Duval Frisquet, in Paris, while others were
gold plated and fitted with glass at the Societé
She added that work is also underway on the building’s
doors, including those of the main entrance with
relief work depicting the history of Cuba. Most of
the decorative door hardware, knobs and locks are
bronze and thanks to the efforts of self-employed
artisans, in collaboration with the City Historian’s
Office, these are being restored.
Among the most outstanding doors are those on the
building’s 11 elevators, five of which are being
restored, five are being replaced and one is about
to be reinstalled.
Marilyn Mederos, general project manager, indicated
that elements which were added over the years are
now being removed, to return the building to its
original design, but that some new systems, such as
those providing security, air conditioning and fire
protection are being installed.
She explained that the when the building housed the
Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA)
and the Cuban Academy of Science, which had other
purposes and functions, modifications were made.
MORE THAN 80 YEARS OF HISTORY
The land occupied by the Capitolio, the second
tallest building in the city with a cupola which was
the fifth highest in the world at the time of its
construction, was originally a swampy area which had
been converted into the city’s first botanical
With the participation of 8,000 workers, the
majority Spanish, plus Cubans and those of other
nationalities, the construction was completed in
record time. Work was initiated in 1926, and
completed in 1931 – even though the building was
inaugurated in 1929.
After its opening during the Gerardo Machado
dictatorship, the Capitolio housed the Senate and
House of Representatives; then served as a museum
and more recently the CITMA Ministry.
Prior to the triumph of the Revolution, the
Capitolio was the site of one of the most mysterious
stories of the pseudo-republican era, which gained
notoriety around the world at the time – the March,
1946, robbery of a 25-carat diamond, which marked
Kilometer Zero of the country’s national highway.
Journalist Ciro Bianchi recounts that despite the
tight security afforded the gem, from the second
crown of Czar Nicolas II, thieves managed to get
away with it in just 30 minutes.
Participating in the fruitless search were 5,000
police, 2,000 secret agents and technicians from the
infamous National Identification Bureau, who were
unable to locate the diamond or capture the thieves.
Fifteen months later, it reappeared in the private
office of President Ramón Grau San Martín.
The gem was replaced with a replica, enclosed within
an octagonal star, crafted with Italian marble of
various tones, while the original diamond was placed
in the Cuban National Bank’s vault.
Leal also recounted another interesting anecdote.
Below the cupola, at the foot of the statue
República, a niche to honor the Unknown Mambi was
created. The area has been rediscovered and the City
Historian commented that this find is exemplary of
the restoration’s goal, to allow the Capitolio to
once again serve the country’s struggle for freedom.
CUBAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY TO RETURN
Declared a National Heritage Site, the Capitolio is
appropriate for its original purpose, though the
county’s People’s Power system is not bicameral,
The House of Representatives space is perfect for
the National Assembly, he said, and being installed
are all of the modern systems used in parliamentary
activity today, and in the press room, as well,
which was part of the original design.
He recounted that when construction done over the
years was removed, the original, spacious press room
was revealed, originally designed with telegraph
access for reporters who covered legislative
Leal emphasized that work is underway in the area
which will be the main daily work site of the
National Assembly, located on the northern wing of
This area has been prioritized so that the Assembly
can begin to function here as soon as possible,
while renovation of other sections continues, with a
view toward completing the project within the
shortest period of time possible, Mulet said.
In addition to its governmental role, specific areas
of the Capitolio will continue to be open to the
public, such as the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos, so
named because of its acoustics and the library
inspired by that of the Vatican, with walls paneled
with rare hardwoods, using a tongue and groove
This is a national project, not just one of the City
Historian’s Office, with financing from the state
and the participation of various entities, the lead
project manager explained.
The Capitolio, one of the city’s architectural
treasures and one of the country’s major tourist
attractions, is being returned to its original
splendor and, as Eusebio Leal said, will serve to
restore a national memory. (Prensa Latina)