On the hill above the picturesque village of Casablanca, 1km southeast from the entrance to the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña, is El Cristo de La Habana, a17m-high Christ figure commissioned by Marta Batista, wife of the dictator, and sculpted from Italian marble (blessed by Catholic Pope Pius XII prior to being shipped to Cuba) by Jilma Madera in 1958. Although impressive close-up, where you can ponder the massive scale of the sandaled feet and the perfectly sculpted hands, said to weigh a tonne each, there’s precious little to do on the hillside other than admire the views over Havana. The best perspective of the statue itself is from Habana Vieja, especially in the evening, when you can gaze across the bay and enjoy its floodlit grandeur.
The sculpture provides a warm welcome, as it sits at the entrance to Old Carenas port and is the first thing sailors see when entering the city. The figure looks over Havana and appears to be blessing the city however locals often joke that the El Cristo de La Habana Christ statue is gestured to depict a cigar in one hand and a mojito in the other, to honour popular Cuban culture.
Construction of El Cristo de La Habana
The construction of the El Cristo de La Habana took several years to complete and was finally finalised on December 24th 1958. Just 15 days after its unauguration, the famous Fidel Castro entered and dominated Havana during the Cuban Revolution. Madera did not have a particular figure in mind whilst sculpting but was rather inspired by her own ideal of masculine beauty. Note the oblique eyes and voluminous lips, features that are very much associated with the racial miscegenation of the island.
Two years after it’s completion, a lightning bolt struck the head of the statue causing significant damaged and the Cuban sculptor, Jilma Madera, was called to duty once again to restore the Christ figure to it’s former glory.
Over the years, the statue had suffered general deterioration due to exposure before a 10 month restoriation programme, concluded in January 2013, brought it back to life.
Reaching El Cristo de La Habana
The El Cristo de La Habana can be reached by road, by an open top vintage car in typical havana style or by an ordinary car, taxi or bus. There is also the option to arrive in the way of a pleasant short ferry ride, a delight to gaze upon the sparkling water. Once at the site, an uphill 10 minute walk is required to reach the actual statue and the beautiful views at the top. From the view point, you can spot the Dome of the National Capitol Building and the Baroque architecture that is the Cathedral of Havana.
The statue itself is fascinating, as our the views over Havana, at any time of the day. It is appealing to visit at night, to see the Christ figure lit up in illuminating white lights and looking rather glorified, and for the view of Havana to be a haven of shining lights simmering against the water. To view the statue from afar and to see it standing tall and proud, the best view is from the Old Town.
Featured Image, El Cristo de La Havana © Roberto La Rosa / Shutterstock