Friday, 31 July 2015

Cuba: Revolution Square, Havana

Jose Marti Memorial
Revolution Square (La Plaza de la Revolucion) is one of the most imposing places in the whole of Havana.  Its scale dwarfs the individual.

It comprises 72,000 square metres of concrete and tarmac, exposed without sparing to the sun, which beats down from above, and the heat, which radiates back from the hard surfaces.

I'll be honest: I found it brutal and intimidating. It's the place I liked least in Havana, but the one which left the strongest emotional footprint in my memory.

The construction of the square and of the Jose Marti Memorial began before the Revolution in 1953 under Batista. When work recommenced post-revolution, in 1960, it had become the Plaza de la Revolucion with a different raison d'etre.

The Jose Marti memorial itself is 109 m tall and, standing on a hilltop, gives good views over the city if you take the elevator to the top.  Don't choose Sunday to visit.  We found it was closed, as was access to the museum inside, to the Jose Marti statue by Juan Jose Sicre, and to the garden beneath the tower.  Star-shaped, the memorial points into the sky like a rocket tethered to the ground but ready to go into orbit.  It's modernist and of its time.

Using a fish-eye lens, which has given the effect of a curve when in fact all lines are rigidly straight, Andrew took this picture to try and give an impression of the scale of the square.  You can see the tiny white car and the bus to the right.  On the other side of the square are government and administrative buildings which are many storeys high.  The one on the far right is, I believe, the National Library.

I shudder to imagine attending a rally here because of the harsh quality of the environment which gives no concession to human frailty.  Am I overstating my point?  Maybe, I don't know, but if I were giving this architectural landscape a name, I would call it 'brutalist' rather than modernist.  I found it intimidating and unforgiving.

There have been huge rallies here.  They take place on 1st May (International Workers' Day) and 26th July (the 26th July Movement was the revolutionary organisation led by Fidel Castro that overthrew Batista).

It has also been used for concerts like Peace Without Borders and for Mass with Pope Benedict. The pictures you can see by following these links show that, populated with people, the square does take on a different, softer, atmosphere.      
On the Ministry of the Interior, on the opposite side of the square, is the iconic figure of Che Guevara and his well known saying 'Hasta La Victoria, Siempre.'
On the Ministry of Informatics and Communication is the less well known Camilo Cienfuegos, another key figure of the 26th July Movement and the Cuban Revolution.  This stencilled figure was put in place in October 2009 on the 50th anniversary of his death (in a plane crash) and is accompanied by his words 'Vas Bien Fidel'.  Both figures are illuminated at night.
Revolution Square is an intrinsic part of modern Cuba and its history.  You can't miss it.  One of the easiest ways to visit is via the Havana Bus Tour.  It is also on the route of most of the private tours in swanky 1950s cars that you pick up from Parque Central.  Or commission your own trip in one of the less polished but still wonderful 1950s taxis that are always in abundance around Old Havana.

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