The word “necropolis” is Greek for “City of the Dead,” and the Necropolis Cristobal Colon in Havana, Cuba can indeed be described as one, with nearly a million tombs and more than 500 major chapels and mausoleums, each with their own unique style of design and architecture. This is not merely a place to mourn the dead, but also to celebrate their memory, immortalizing them with magnificent works of art to commemorate their legacy.
Location and How to Get There
Necropolis Cristobal Colon is located in Havana’s downtown district Vedado. The neighborhood of Vedado is part of the municipality Plaza de la Revolucion (“Revolution Square”), and the Necropolis is situated just south of the square.
The Necropolis is filled with such resplendent monuments, as much memorials for the dead as they are records of Cuban history. Among these notable grave sites is the Mausoleo de los Bomberos, or “The Firemen Monument.” Also known as Panteon del Cuerpo de Bomberos, it was erected in memory of the firefighters whose lives had been lost in the great fire that occurred on May 17, 1890. Designed by architects Julio Zapata and Agustin Querol, the 75-foot memorial is topped by a statue which is the highest one in the entire cemetery.
Perhaps the most popular grave in the Necropolis is that of Amelia Goyre de Hoz, known as La Milagrosa, “The Miraculous One.” Amelia passed away on May 3, 1901 while she gave birth to her son, who had unfortunately also died. Mother and son were buried together in the same coffin, with the child placed at the mother’s feet. But when the coffin had later been opened, the infant was purportedly found in the mother’s arms. Since then, La Milagrosa had been considered as an unofficial patron saint of children and childless women. According to tradition, one is to knock on the grave thrice with a brass ring, touch the tomb, then ask for a favor and back away from the tomb for their prayers to be answered.
The cemetery was named after famed explorer Cristobal Colon, better known to the rest of the world as Christopher Colombus. Designed by Spanish architect Calixto Arellano de Loira y Cardoso, its construction took place between 1871 and 1886. In 1987, the Necropolis was declared a Cuban National Monument.
The entrance fee isn’t very expensive. It only costs US $5 to get in, but visitors with cameras or those who may want a personal guide would have to pay extra. Maps to the cemetery are available for only $1.
There have been more than 1 million people buried in the Necropolis Cristobal Colon. Many renowned Cuban personalities have been buried here, including Alberto Diaz Gutierrez a.k.a. Alberto Korda, the famed photographer behind Guerrillero Heroico (“Heroic Guerilla”), the iconic picture of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. The cemetery’s layout was based by its architect Calixto de Loira on the symmetrical design of Roman military camps. It occupies an area of 57 hectares (140 acres), and has pathways that stretch on for 20 kilometers. The Necropolis is open to the public from 8 AM to 5 PM daily.