Morbid. Creepy. Romantic. Peaceful. There are many adjectives used to describe cemeteries. I know some people dislike these places and some are even afraid of them. But me, I love old cemeteries – the older the better. I love the stillness and the history. Whenever I visit a new town or city, I try to find out if there are any old cemeteries around. Havana was no different.
Finding the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón was one of the highlights of my visit to Havana. Colón, founded in 1876, is located in the neighbourhood of Vedado, Havana. It’s huge – about 140 acres. I wandered around for several hours but still didn’t manage to see all of it. But of what I did see, the place is jammed packed with all sorts of graves, both for the rich and the poor. It didn’t surprise me to learn that space here is now at a premium!
The cemetery has hundreds of tombstones, vaults, and mausoleums. The grounds are just striking. The sad thing about the cemetery, though, is that there are many empty tombs, vaults that have been damaged, and mausoleums that haven’t been visited or cleaned in ages. My guess is that many of the relatives of the departed are no longer in Cuba, be they exiles or emigrants. However, in terms of atmosphere and photography, this place is quite something to experience and my camera had a field day.
Wandering around the cemetery felt quite safe. No one bothered me as I snapped away to my heart’s content. There was one young man who tried to explain the history of the area but it went beyond my grasp of Spanish. Besides, it felt as if he wanted me to pay him to be tour guide. I also randomly found a chicken foot claw lying on the ground…was it brought by an animal gnawing on the last bits of its meal or was it the remnants of the mysterious Santeria practiced by many in Cuba? As you can see, this cemetery certainly got my imagination rolling!
Exploring the cemetery is pretty easy as wide roads run through the place and several tall landmarks within the compound makes it fairly impossible to get lost. But it is possible to go blind – many of the structures are white so if you go in the mid-day sun, wear sunglasses! The sunlight bounces something fierce. And take water as well as a hat if you plan to spend several hours here – there is nowhere to rest (ie. benches, trees) and you certainly want to have plenty energy to visit all 140 acres of this place! Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón was one of my favorite places within Havana and one of the best cemeteries I’ve ever visited. It’s definitely on my to-do list when I return to this fantastic city one day.
What other cemetery in the world is worth a visit because it’s photogenic or atmospheric?
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You can now download all my Havana articles on to your smartphone or tablet with the GPSmyCity app; for a small upgrade fee, you will be able to read them offline as well as get a city map with GPS directions! Pretty neat, eh