Havana, Cuba  



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Thomas Barrat  

The land now occupied by the HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA was part of an area known in the early centuries of the colonial area as Monte Vedado (vedado - prohibited) because of a Spanish government decree banning the creation of paths to the beach in that area; this is why one of the function rooms is named "Sala Vedado".

The constant attacks by privateers and pirates, followed by the capture of Havana by the English, prompted the construction of various fortifications, towers, batteries, including at this site (now occupied by the hotel gardens) the Santa Clara battery. Together with Havana's old town (La Havana Vieja), this was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The remnants of this defence system, two cannons, are currently on display in the garden: the Krupp and the Ordóñez; the latter was the world's largest in its day.

The promontory on which the hotel sits was known as the Loma de Taganana, a reference to the name by which a famous cave that lies beneath the hotel's foundations was known for centuries, explaining the name Sala Taganana given to another of the establishment's elegant function rooms.

The decision to build a luxury hotel was taken in the late 1920s. The American firms McKim, Mead & White and Purdy & Henderson Co., tasked with the planning and construction, completed the palatial edifice in 14 months.

The hotel exhibits an eclectic architectural style, reflecting Art Deco, Arabic references, features of Hispano-Moorish architecture, and both neo-classical and neo-colonial elements. There are even details from the centuries-old Californian style. The resulting unique example of so many schools of architecture is the most unusual and interesting hotel in the Caribbean region.

The HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA was opened on the night of 30 December 1930. The party to celebrate the opening, attended by leading lights of the time, was held in the ballroom.


Tom Barrat email: tbarrat@gmail.com