The incomparable Capitolio Nacional is Havana’s most ambitious and grandiose building, constructed after the ‘Dance of the Millions’ had gifted the Cuban government a seemingly bottomless treasure box of sugar money. Similar to the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, but (marginally) taller and much richer in detail, the work was initiated by Cuba’s US-backed dictator Gerardo Machado in 1926 and took 5000 workers three years, two months and 20 days to build at a cost of US$17 million.
Formerly it was the seat of the Cuban Congress, but since 1959 it has housed the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology.
Constructed with white Capellanía limestone and block granite, the entrance is guarded by six rounded Doric columns atop a staircase that leads up from the Prado. Looking out over the Havana skyline is a 62m stone cupola topped with a replica of 16th-century Florentine sculptor Giambologna’s bronze statue of Mercury in the Palazzo de Bargello. Set in the floor directly below the dome is a copy of a 24-carat diamond. Highway distances between Havana and all sites in Cuba are calculated from this point.
The entryway opens up into the Salón de los Pasos Perdidos (Room of the Lost Steps; so named because of its unusual acoustics), at the center of which is the statue of the republic, an enormous bronze woman standing 11m tall and symbolizing the mythic Guardian of Virtue and Work.
The Capitolio has been undergoing lengthy renovations for two years and should open again in late 2013. Admission prices may change.