Colon Cemetery, Havana

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Colon Cemetery, Havana
Porton de entrada Cementerio de Colon.jpg
Main Gate.
Coordinates23°07′23″N 82°23′55″W / 23.12306°N 82.39861°W / 23.12306; -82.39861Coordinates: 23°07′23″N 82°23′55″W / 23.12306°N 82.39861°W / 23.12306; -82.39861
Owned byCity of Havana
Size122.5 acres
No. of graves800,000
No. of intermentsover 1 million
Find a GraveColon Cemetery, Havana
Colon Cemetery aerial view. Havana, Cuba. Showing its relation to N-S axis and to the Vedado

El Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, also called La Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón,[1] was founded in 1876 in the Vedado neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba to replace the Espada Cemetery in the Barrio de San Lázaro.[2] Named for Christopher Columbus, the cemetery is noted for its many elaborately sculpted memorials. It is estimated the cemetery has more than 500 major mausoleums. Before the Espada Cemetery and the Colon Cemetery were built, interments took place in crypts at the various churches throughout Havana, for example, at the Havana Cathedral or Church Crypts in Havana Vieja.


The Colon Cemetery is one of the most important cemeteries in the world and is generally held to be one of the most important in Latin America in historical and architectural terms, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Prior to the opening of the Colon Cemetery, Havana's dead were laid to rest in the crypts of local churches and then, beginning in 1806, at Havana's newly opened Espada Cemetery located in the Barrio de San Lazaro and near the cove of Juan Guillen close to the San Lázaro Leper Hospital and the Casa de Beneficencia. When locals realized there would be a need for a larger space for their community for the deceased (due to a cholera outbreak in 1868), planning began for the Colon Cemetery.[3]

The Colón is a Catholic cemetery and has elaborate monuments, tombs and statues by 19th and 20th century artists. Plots were assigned according to social class, and soon became a means for patrician families to display their wealth and power with ever more elaborate tombs and mausoleums. The north main entrance is marked by a gateway decorated with biblical reliefs and topped by a marble sculpture by José Vilalta Saavedra: Faith, Hope and Charity. Some of the most important and elaborate tombs lie between the main gate and the Capilla Central. The Monumento a los Bomberos (Firemen's Monument) built by Spanish sculptor Agustín Querol and architect Julio M Zapata, commemorates the twenty eight firemen who died when a hardware shop in La Habana Vieja caught fire in 1890

The Colon Cemetery, Havana NE Corner (Calle 18 and Calle N Calzada Zapata and San Antonio Chiquito and Calle 29. May 7, 1949

In front of the main entrance, at the axes of the principal avenues Avenida Cristobal Colón, Obispo Espada and Obispo Fray Jacinto, stands the Central Chapel modelled on Il Duomo in Florence is the octagonal Capilla Central (central chapel), the Capilla del Amor (Chapel of Love), built by Juan Pedro Baró for his wife Catalina Laza. On every side rectangular streets lead geometrically to the cemetery's 50,000 hectares. The area of the cemetery is defined by rank and social status of the dead with distinct areas: priests, soldiers, brotherhoods, the wealthy, the poor, infants, victims of epidemics, pagans and the condemned. The best preserved and grandest tombs stand on or near the central avenues and their axes.

With more than 800,000 graves and 1 million interments, space in the Colon Cemetery is currently at a premium and as such after three years remains are removed from their tombs, boxed and placed in a storage building.

Yet for all its elegance and grandeur the Colon Cemetery conceals as much as it displays. Empty tombs and desecrated family chapels disfigure the stately march of Cuban family memorials even in the most prominent of the avenues, and away from the central cross-streets are in ruin. Many of these are the tombs of exiled families, whose problems with caring for their dead have been complicated by residency outside of Cuba since the Revolution of 1959.


The Colon cemetery's main gate before 1901. Havana, Cuba

María Argelia Vizcaino writes:

"The first stone was placed on October 30, 1871 and before its extension completed in 1934, it had a capacity of 504,458.22 square meters. Rectangular in shape as a Roman-Byzantine-style Roman camp, with sidewalks, streets and listed roads, facilitating access to the visitor, (which in republican times was provided with a free map). Enrique Martínez y Martínez tells us in «Cuba Arquitectura y Urbanismo»: “It was the most remarkable religious construction that was made in the city during the nineteenth century”.

The square located on the central street between the chapel and the huge doorway was called Christopher Columbus, because it was planned to erect a monument to the Discoverer next to the remains, which ironically never happened of the Cathedral of Havana, being the first bust erected throughout the continent (1828) and the only one that exists in the whole world with a beard. So the cemetery dedicated to the great Admiral, full of famous sculptures lacks one by which he was given his name."[4]


The Colon Cemetery concept-design diagram.

The Cementerio Colón measures 620 by 800 meters (122.5 acres). Designed by the Galician architect Calixto Arellano de Loira y Cardoso, a graduate of Madrid's Royal Academy of Arts of San Fernando, became the Colón's first resident when he died and before his work was completed. It was built between 1871 and 1886, on former farm land. Laid out in a grid similar to El Vedado by numbered and lettered streets it becomes an urban microcosm of the city.

The cemetery is laid out roughly on a north–south axis, parallel to the last stretch of the Almendares river, and against the street grid of El Vedado. It is on the north axis, thus its main streets are on the four cardinal points of the compass. Symbolized by a Greek cross, it represents the four directions of the earth and the spread of the gospel to all directions as well as the four platonic elements.[5] We find Greek crosses against a yellow background along the perimeter fence enclosing the cemetery, as well as part of the design diagram of the cemetery, which employs several Greek crosses at different scales thus forming an architectural tapestry. The main avenues, Avenida Cristobal Colón, Obispo Espada and Obispo Fray Jacinto, at six hundred by eight hundred meters, forms the first cross at the scale of the city (red cross-areal photo).[6]


The Colon Cemetery has a monument to the firefighters who lost their lives in the great fire of May 17, 1890.

As baseball is a leading sport in Cuba, the cemetery has two monuments to baseball players from the Cuban League. The first was erected in 1942 and the second in 1951 for members of the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.

In February 1898, the recovered bodies of sailors who died on the United States Navy battleship Maine were interred in the Colon Cemetery. In December 1899 the bodies were disinterred and brought back to the United States for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.[7]

Also buried here are three British Commonwealth servicemen who are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; a Canadian Army officer of World War I, and a Royal Engineers officer and Royal Canadian Navy seaman of World War II. The remains of the casualties are located in the mausoleum of the Anglo-American Welfare Association, with the names inscribed on the central memorial which also forms the entrance to the underground ossuary.[8]

Notable interments[edit]


  1. ^ es:Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón|«La Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón»
  2. ^ "Cementerio de la Habana" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  3. ^ Snyder, Laurie. Cities of the Dead: The Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, in The Contemplative Traveler, December 6, 2016.
  4. ^ "El cementerio Colón". Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  5. ^ "Greek Cross (Cross Imissa, Cross of Earth)". Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  6. ^ File:Colon Cemetery Arial.1. Havana, Cuba.jpg
  7. ^ "The First Funeral of the Crew of the Battleship MAINE". Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  8. ^ "CWGC Cemetery report, details of dead from casualty record".
  9. ^ "EcuRed : Federico Capdevila". EcuRed link in Spanish
  10. ^ "Online site translation into English and other languages – Yandex.Translate".
  11. ^ "William Alexander Morgan". Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  12. ^ "Cuban officials attend funeral service for Cardinal Ortega". July 28, 2019 – via


External links[edit]

Media related to Cementerio Cristóbal Colón at Wikimedia Commons