Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
The somber yet stately Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Palace of the Captains-Generals) was completed in 1791 and became home to 65 governors of Cuba between 1791 and 1898. After that, it was the U.S. governor’s residence during Uncle Sam’s occupation and, 1902–1920, the early seat of the Cuban government. Between 1920 and 1967, it served as Havana’s city hall.
The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales is fronted by a loggia supported by Ionic columns, and by “cobblewood,” laid instead of stone to soften the noise of carriages and thereby lessen the disturbance of the governor’s sleep. The three-story structure surrounds a courtyard that contains a statue of Christopher Columbus by Italian sculptor Cucchiari. Arched colonnades rise on all sides. In the southeast corner, a hole containing the coffin of an unknown nobleman is one of several graves from the old Cementerio de Espada.
Today, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales houses the Museo de la Ciudad de la Habana (City of Havana Museum, Tacón #1, e/ Obispo y O’Reilly, tel. 07/861-5001, Tues.–Sun. 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., last entry at 4:30 p.m., entrance CUC3, cameras CUC2, videos CUC10, guide CUC1). The great flight of marble stairs leads to palatially furnished rooms. The Salón del Trono (Throne Room), made for the king of Spain but never used, is of breathtaking splendor and brims with treasures.
The museum also features the Salón de las Banderas (Hall of Flags), with magnificent artwork that includes The Death of Antonio Maceo by Menocal, plus exquisite collections illustrating the story of the city’s (and Cuba’s) development and the 19th-century struggles for independence. One top-floor room contains the shattered wings of the eagle that once crested the Monumento del Maine in Vedado, along with other curios suggestive of U.S. voracity. Old horse-drawn carriages and artillery are among the other exhibits.
To the south side of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, along a 50-meter-long cobbled pedestrian section of Calle Obispo, is a row of ancient mansions each hosting a unique site of interest. For example, the Casa del Agua la Tinaja (Obispo #111) sells mineral water (CUC0.25 a glass); and the Museo de la Orfebrería (Museum of Silverwork, Obispo #113, tel. 07/863-9861, Tues.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., free) is crammed with silver and gold ornaments from the colonial era. Upstairs you’ll find candelabras, a beautiful replica in silver of Columbus’s Santa María, walking sticks, and a splendid collection of swords and firearms.
Next door, the Librería Navio (Obispo #117–119, daily 10 a.m.–7 p.m.) antiquarian bookstore is housed in the oldest house in Havana, dating from around 1570. It adjoins the Museo de Pintura Mural (Painted Mural Museum, Obispo #119, tel. 07/864-2354, Tues.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m.), displaying colonial murals, plus a quitrin (traditional low-slung, horse-drawn cart of the colonial nobility) in the foyer.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition