The statuesque Capitolio (Capitol, Paseo de Martí, e/ San Martín y Dragones, tel. 07/861-5519, daily 9 a.m.–7 p.m., entrance CUC3, guided tours CUC1, cameras CUC2), one block south of Parque Central, dominates Havana’s skyline. It was built between 1926 and 1929 as Cuba’s Chamber of Representatives and Senate and designed after Washington’s own Congress building.
The 692-foot-long edifice is supported by flanking colonnades of Doric columns, with semicircular pavilions at each end of the building. The lofty stone cupola rises 61.75 meters, topped by a replica of 16th-century Florentine sculptor Giambologna’s famous bronze Mercury in the Palazzo de Bargello.
A massive stairway—flanked by neoclassical figures in bronze by Italian sculptor Angelo Zanelli that represent Labor and Virtue—leads up to an entrance portico with three tall bronze doors sculpted with 30 bas-reliefs that depict important events of Cuban history.
Inside, facing the door is the Estatua de la República (Statue of the Republic), a massive bronze sculpture (also by Zanelli) of Cuba’s voluptuous Indian maiden. At 17.54 meters (56 feet) tall, she is the world’s third-largest indoor statue (the other two are the gold Buddha in Nava, Japan, and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.). In the center of the floor is a 24-carat diamond replica that marks Kilometer 0, the point from which all distances on the island are calculated (rumor has it that the original is kept in Fidel’s office). Above, the gilt-covered dome has a barrel-vaulted ceiling carved in refulgent relief.
The 394-foot-long Salón de los Pasos Perdidos (Great Hall of the Lost Steps), so named because of its acoustics, is inlaid with patterned marble motifs and features bronze bas-reliefs, green marble pilasters, and massive lamps on carved pedestals of glittering copper. Renaissance-style candelabras dangle from the frescoed ceiling. The semicircular Senate chamber and Chamber of Representatives are at each end; former congressional offices line the hallway, and there’s a mahogany-paneled former congressional library.
The Capitolio is the headquarters of the Academía de Ciencias (Academy of Sciences); the library—the Biblioteca Nacional de Ciencias y Naturales—is on the Capitolio’s south side (Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m.).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition