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The Espada Cemetery is a disused cemetery located approximately a mile west of the city of Havana, Cuba, near to the coast and close to the San Lázaro Leper Hospital. In use from 1806 to 1878, the Espada Cemetery was the first burial place formally designed and constructed in the Havana region; prior to the cemetery construction, the Havana custom had been to bury the dead in vaults of the Churches. It was named after the Bishop incumbent at the time of design, José Díaz de Espada y Landa. Its boundaries included the present streets of San Lázaro, Vapor, Espada, and Aramburu. Despite being officially called Campo Santo (Holy Field), the general populace of Havana typically referred to the cemetery as el cementerio Espada (the Espada Cemetery).
The cemetery was built in response to population growth around the area, and the resulting scarcity of church land that could be used for burial. It was proposed and sanctioned by the government of Don Salvador de Muro y Salazar in 1804, and, after two years of design and construction, the cemetery was ready for use in 1806, and was inaugurated on February 2 of that year.
The cemetery was used as the primary burial ground for the city of Havana from 1806 until the late 1860s. In 1868, a cholera epidemic broke out in the area, resulting in a greatly increased rate of death. It soon became apparent that the Espada Cemetery, still the only major burial ground in the region, would not suffice to handle the number of deaths that were coming from the epidemic. To compound matters, the reformist El Siglo scorned the Espada Cemetery in an 1865 editorial as unworthy of "the most miserable village." One United States visitor, after returning from a sobering tour of Havana's Espada cemetery at that time, instructed his hotel's attendant that if he were to die on the island, he must be buried at sea. In order to supplement the struggling Espada Cemetery, another cemetery, the Colón Cemetery (Spanish: Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón), named for explorer Christopher Columbus, was inaugurated in 1871. In 1878, the Espada Cemetery was closed in favour of the larger Colón Cemetery and because of the lack of space still remaining within the Espada Cemetery grounds. The Colón Cemetery remains in active use today, and now harbours more than 800,000 corpses.
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