• Lynn Lundstrom Belles

Architect Enters Design Contest then ends up DEAD! in the Colon Cemetery of Havana

Christopher Colon Cemetery was one of the destinations on the Day 2 – fathom Havana Bus Tour.

Colon Cemetery

We missed the main entrance to the graveyard where an impressive sculpture in the form of an “arc of triumph” is located.   We had been talking in the back of the bus and suddenly noticed that we were IN the Cemetery.  The bus pulled over to the side while the tour guide asked for a show of hands – who wanted to get out vs. who wanted to just drive through?  We jumped up and asked if we could get out!   Regardless of what anyone else did – we wanted to walk through.  It was really really HOT!  In fact according to the notes in my journal….

very important monuments

The bus driver and the tour guide readily let us walk – and the bus continued on to the central area with most of the other people still on board!  I have always been fascinated by cemeteries!  I had to go to the Cemetery in my home town every week with my mother after my grandfather died.  We went there in the spring to plant flowers in a pot, then to water the plants several times each week all summer long.   I remember playing among the grave markers – I got to know where all of the different family graves were.  It fascinated me that some of the stones were so old that you could not read the writing….  I once spent the weekend representing my family at the grave of an ancestor in the Scandinavian Cemetery (Rockford Illinois) during an event about local history.  I never dreamed that some day I would be exploring a cemetery in Havana Cuba!!

chapel in colon cemetery

The Christopher Colon Cemetery in Havana Cuba was FABULOUS!  These aren’t just memorials, this is Architecture! Only about 20 minutes in a car from the Pier in Old Havana is the Colon Cemetery, or as they say it in Spanish “Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón”.

family grave

In 1869, Architect Arellano de Loira, graduate of Madrid’s Royal Academy of Arts, won a design contest to build a new cemetery in Havana.

family grave plot in cuban cemetery

Construction based upon his project, which had been called “The pale death enters both the cabins of the poor and the palaces of kings” was not complete upon his death and he became the first occupant of the Cemetery!

a pyramid mausoleum

WOW – that’s kind of creepy!! Do you think he knew that he would need a cemetery when he entered the design contest?

Cemetery in Colon Cuba

Named for Christopher Columbus, the 140 acre cemetery is noted for its elaborately sculpted memorials, mausoleums, chapels, and family vaults.

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The Grave of a Free Mason – See the symbol at the top?


colon cemetery grave

The face must be formed copper that patina’d


Colon cemetery

This Mausoleum is Art Deco Style! We couldn’t believe how much Art Deco Style Architecture there was in Cuba!


close up of a limestone grave marker

According to my journal the tour guide that was talking to us on the bus said that the last person was buried in 1954.

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According to my research the cemetery is still in use, and the put the remains into storage after three years.

colon cemetery

In New Orleans we were taught that this process is somewhat like a natural cremation.  Because the grave box is above ground, and the sun is fucking hot, after a certain quantity of days the body has turned to dust.

typical above ground grave

In New Orleans, the dust is then swept into a hole at the bottom of the grave box, where it mixes with all that have gone before.  I believe it – it was Fucking HOT!

monument in colon cemetery

A small Chapel is a part of this family’s plot.

Christopher Colon Cemetery in Havana

I am not really sure where the actual grave is in this circumstance!!  Take a Guess, leave us a comment!

colon cemetery monument

The land plat for the Cemetery is a square with a plus sign, and a round church in the center at the intersection of the two main roads through it, Avenida Obispo Fray Jacinto and Avenida Cristobal Colon. Here is a link to a nice map and other maps designated for tourism in Cuba.


plot plan of colon cemetery
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But as you might suspect, there are family plots that lay in ruin. Tombs of families, who have left, who exiled to the United States or another place and can not care for their dead.

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The yellow building that is in this photo, beyond, on the left, is the chapel at the center of the complex.

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In  1898, the recovered bodies of sailors who died on the United States Navy battleship Maine were interred in the Colon Cemetery. Just short of two years later in 1899 the bodies were disinterred and brought back to the United States for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

If you have an opportunity to visit Christopher Colon Cemetery in Havana – you will definitely want to do so.  It is rightfully described as being one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the World!

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